VIRGINIA KATZ | The Artist as Nature

In a famous statement by Jackson Pollock, when asked by Hans Hoffman whether he worked from nature (i.e., from drawings or models), he said “I am nature” and then refused to elaborate. When we consider the work of Virginia Katz in its various guises, this statement may also occur to us. It offers a key to the weight of her accomplishments, which have over time expanded into varying dimensions of an artist not only working from nature, but becoming it. The concept behind Land or Environmental Art creates a decisive break with the narrative conditions within art of the past that depended upon the natural world, such as the Impressionists, or that speculatively utilized spaces for esthetic fodder while imposing conditional restrains, as in Conceptual Art. Katz investigates nature’s vastness and multiplicity as an expressive sublime, and her work alternates among the four elements, and between degrees of perception and projection of scale and depth of meaning. 
Into the Light I, 2017
Mixed Media, Mixed Process Original Print, 66 x 36 inches
LAND is one of her themes in which she has been making much of her newer work, is characterized by the use of a single word from spoken vernacular, used in songs or proclamations of discovery or traditional song. Katz’s process is likewise one of exploration and excavation, in which discovery matches, act for act, the use of the metaphor along with the appearance of land torn asunder. It’s nearly impossible to comprehend the true nature of something without deconstructing and analyzing it piece by piece. The reclamation of a landscape starts from the bottom upwards—from its most mysterious nether regions to its more aesthetic surface; for the earth is no mere sculpture. To comprehend the earth we must have some knowledge of why it exists. Katz’s exploration proceeded in stages, and we get to see each of them on her website, which in narrative precision presents earlier models if we venture deeply enough. It’s my intention to do so, if only to provide you with the proper understanding of what her current work is and does. Katz’s recent works in the LAND series have emerged from a continuity of explorations of spatial, dimensional, intimate, and iconic depictions of the larger earth around us, viewed as if upon a globe or via a telescope orbiting around it. These works are diffuse and expressive, and are received to the unadulterated visual cortex as large abstractions until we realize that, in accrual of multiples images side by side, that what we are seeing is not a series of expressions but impressions gleaned from both an imaginary and a scientific viewpoint. With the aid of meteorological reports, weather photographs, and films that provide a basis for understanding the scale of completely ambiguous phenomena vigorously rendered.  

Entanglement (2017)
Acrylic paint formed, peeled, cut and sanded on panel with Aquamarine, Citrine, Uncut and Cut Diamonds, Black Tourmaline, Rutilated Quartz and Malachite, 20 x 16 x 4 inches
 Two types of work rank under this theme, one two and the other three-dimensional (though some may call them reliefs). They use various titles but connect by their appearance and by the type of perspective and detail with which they are rendered. Katz proceeds in fits and starts as she simultaneously develops the two dimensional versions, which in their earliest guises were more painterly and evocative rather than depictive of real-nature appearances and events. Katz never sticks to one format but makes both, addressing the illusion on the one hand, and the reconstruction on the other. The picture and the object both narrate different ends of the same spectrum, the picture placing us above events, looking out over the earth, from an omniscient perspective, seeing water current, winds and clouds, and land masses all as one palette; while her objects mine the intimacy of a direct reckoning with evidence of man’s transgressions with the beauty and complexity of the living environment around him.

Although Katz records and reflects upon both natural and man made disasters, there is an inherent presumption on her part that the most prominent ones are connected in some way to either a human act, some repercussion of the mishandling of the environment, in which human concerns were made to obscure and diminish nature’s needs, or the mere inability of mankind to live in the natural world in such a way that when natural disasters do happen, they could reduce the effect to themselves. Culpability is connected not only to acts of selfishness, destruction, and a wanton disregard for other forms of life, but by mismanaging population density, industrial by-product, and other dynamics that do not work hand in hand with a responsible coexistence with nature. But clearly, through her use of technology to aid her in finding source material, Katz is no Luddite. This merely underscores the need for self reflection that her work brings. 
Particulate – 405 Fwy (2013)
Acrylic on Panel, 16 x 12 x 3 inches
What Katz achieves is completed and motivated by the use of strategies to create art works relying not only upon data and mechanical observation, but in some cases the element itself. The sculptural works in Virginia Katz’s Land series present a study in forms that is simultaneously a paradox of intent. Why does the artist, in effort to discover the nature of the Earth, present us with one that has been torn open? Clearly she wants to gaze not merely upon or over the landscape, but beneath the surface, to see its bones and flesh laid bare. She wants to undress it. It takes the viewer a moment to reorient to the object of their attention. There is a vague pre-sentiment that what we are seeing is somehow the bowels of a person and this is perhaps what Katz intends. The earth itself, as an object spinning in space and containing multiple organisms, a specific ecology, and billions of sentient beings, is too much to take in. At the material level, as one of five elements, it is too atomized and perhaps also too metaphysical. Yet where we can see that it was purposefully deconstructed it takes on an emotional narrative. The progress of Katz's vision through alternating and successively advanced means is a testament to her vision in applying herself to an impossibly broad theme, to create models that speak to the issues at the core of her rigor, so that through examination of the world around us more of who we are is revealed in the process.

Francine Tint “Explorations” at The Cavalier Gallery, 3 West 57th Street, New York February 28-March 24, 2018

Art itself is inspired and diverse, it merges and conflates ideas that take the form of creative expression in ways difficult to define. The paintings of Francine Tint are a perfect example of this. At first we may view them as agglomerations of pure pigment, but soon we begin to see portions of her composition stand out from the rest. They take over our concentration. From these elements to the support, our attention teeters back and forth, creating absurdity and doubt.  Titled “Explorations,” her new solo exhibition at The Cavalier Gallery, presents a variety of canvases in which metaphors of motion or growth figure highly. The current paintings of Francine Tint express a variety of truths with a great vigor and deftness of touch. Tint’s paintings take from a broad visual register, and they abound in color and vitality. Nothing here sits idly within its own composition upon the canvas, sleeping in the somnolence of stylistic ease. Hers is the minutiae of a mind on fire, constantly in motion, of progress toward the next several statements she is interested to make.

“Blooms of Darkness” (2018) references the “blooms of the night”— spectral events that occur in the mind of someone overwhelmed by nature. While staring out into the pervasive darkness, a phenomena that expresses the rational mind’s limits at comprehending the absence of humanity in a ‘wild’ place. Abstraction therefore creates an event that is seemingly real. 

Blooms of Darkness, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 42 x 44 inche

“Dubstep” (2016) takes its title from a club craze popular since around 2010 in which reggae syncopations inform and are utilized by musicians who use synthesizers and turntables to create an extremely aggressive form of electronic dance music. It can range from simple pop tunes to DJ-generated walls of pure sound. In a club environment, dancing to the music, lulled by drink and good cheer, the music can prove transformative, generating an extreme release from everyone present as the music takes over and they lose control. The forms in this painting are tidal, like the shape a wave takes as it barrels toward the shore, carrying everything with it—sand, fish, possibly a surfer, creating immense tension, a dynamo of motion that endlessly feeds back into itself. It resembles what in electronic terms is called a feedback loop, in which energy pulses outward and then returns to its source. 

Dubstep, 2016, Acrylic on canvas, 56 x 54 inches

“Electric Sunrise” (2018) is a affirmation of that primal event that begins each day since the time of creation. Day emerges from night in a diffusion of searing light and the commingling of all elements being charged by the presence of illumination. Seen from off at a great distance, framed by tall buildings or trees, the locus of our attention is filled with swarming and whooshing forms that could be birds, leaves, dust, and in addition, some primal matter exposed at the moment when a celestial event makes all things imminently transparent. We are compelled by the sublime grace of this event. 

Electric Sunrise, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches
“Velvet Explosion” (2017) presents us with a swooning study in seismic forces that could be volcanic magma pouring out upon the deep ocean floor, or it could be an electric charge releasing with in the blood vessels or brain pathways of the human body. There is a heating up out of absolute coolness, a churning, and then out of pure air, a spark lets fly. Inspiration is the m├ętier of the world as felt, or sensed, from voluptuousness and carnal pleasure, into intimacy, then introspection, and finally something is born. This is motion in its most innate form.
Velvet Explosion, 2016, Acrylic on canvas, 23 x 27 inches
“Star Wars” (2016) makes me think of the films I have been seeing since I was a boy of ten years. I see an alien landscape, and through it flows a force, manifesting as dark and malevolent, or it could be a shadow of a hovercraft, carrying someone to his as yet unknown destiny. The mythical quality of these films takes us back into a world of pure reckoning. They are like futuristic westerns, journeys to knowledge through distant and inhospitable lands, where intuition trumps power. The hero who knows himself better can be victorious. 

Star Wars, 2016, Acrylic on canvas, 21 x 37 inches
These and many other paintings by Francine Tint provide us with models for the exploration of reality in a heightened degree of chromatic and gestural perception. The lessons of painting that Tint has gleaned from her several decades of making art in the community of artists, and indeed, within the history of art, are a palimpsest of meaning that can only be realized by the act of looking. Tint knows form, and uses all of her powers to move us. She uses form to fill the world, tilting it ever so much into the unknown, where we follow. 


ERIC BROWN | Close Quarters

THE WHITE TRIANGLE (2017) Oil on linen, 24 x 30 inches

My reaction to certain kinds of art is sometimes, even unknown to me, historically circumscribed. I see a certain kind of painterly construction and my response is an echo of the same response I had ten years or more ago, when I witnessed a similar image in a gallery or museum setting. Perhaps I now bring to it a greater range of echoes, and over time I develop new language to enrich and aggrandize the nature of my experience. The paintings of Eric Brown fall into this category. His recent solo exhibition, Punctuate, on view at Theodore Art in Bushwick, was a quiet revelation. These overly simple works use color and gaps in space to create subtle tensions. His use of titles expands their impact as metaphors for the human experience, which can be dramatized and quantified with so little apparent industry. Take “The White Triangle” for instance (all works 2017). This painting involves the use of three areas of bright color: red, yellow, and green, with the red and yellow areas rising up from the bottom of the canvas with a single hard edge beneath them. Yet only the yellow area maintain its regularity, while the red area arches off leftward in a diagonal line, and both are murkily bisected by the green area, which seems to float or flow downward, obscuring each of them and leaving between them only a small white area in the form of an upside down left triangle. Focusing upon this area one could easily be distracted from the dynamic of the shapes surrounding it. Yet the space of absence created by the White Triangle is both a fulcrum and a mirage. It sets up a dynamic that never ends. Look here, it says, now look away. Look here, look away. 

CYRIL LAUGHS (2017) Oil on linen, 9 x 12 inches
Other works in the exhibition operate on a similar basis: the union of opposites, while others merge or obscure overt building blocks. A further example of the first model is “Cyril Laughs” in which a black background is interrupted by yellow forms that resemble the inside view of someone’s mouth. Here the inference is loaded by the title, though the same meaning might be ascertained after a lengthy viewing. Using metaphoric forms that can only have a limited range of meaning does nothing to subtract from them their power to move the viewer, when the formlessness of Brown’s designs drop their mystery. Alternately, a work such as “Flag Day” plays with the visual assumptions that accompany certain colors in certain orders. If it looks like a flag it must be one. This painting resembles the flag of Russia, three broad shapes in red, white, and blue that almost leer at us in colors modeled after those of the American one. Yet in Brown’s version the horizontal lines of the real flag are made jagged, as if to trace a more circuitous and perhaps mysterious route around the notion of liberty and its relationship to statehood. Eric Brown’s solo exhibition is a chance to explore how perception punctuates form while art punctures life. 
FLAG DAY (2017), Oil on linen, 18 x 24 inches



KATHLEEN ELLIOT | Denatured Truths

The artist is a natural idealist who begins with form and ends with meaning. When Kathleen Elliot first began to discover herself as an artist she had an immediate interest in the use of glass to create forms reminiscent of nature itself—branches presenting leaves, flowers, and fruit, which over time coalesced into abstract forms as doppelgangers for the real objects she wished to emulate. Every artist develops a world view through their work that may not manifest in linguistic terms. However, the protracted activity of art making, developing the channels of meaning, and growing through the stages of one's discipline, makes one adroitly sensitive to the importance of a value system to accompany it. There is a fervor to the new way of thinking about how art can reflect life in these tumultuous days of political rancor. It’s been building for 20 years and is finally peaking in every corner of society.  The voyage of the artist is, less and less, a pure exploration of ideas as forms, and progressively answers to issues or problems in contemporary society. 

It’s been repeatedly said of Elliot that she studied the academic disciplines of philosophy, linguistics, beauty, and spirituality to amass an educated basis for her work in glass. Clarity in regard to the specific lessons gleaned within each of these disciplines would immensely accrue the degree of portent in considering the art work itself. Elliot is an adherent to the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, who proposes that objects are what they are because of how we interact with them, rather than because of some intrinsic definition. One very prevalent characteristic of Elliot’s work is its preciousness—the branches and leaves that comprise the tactile form of the sculptures have been fashioned with intent to charm the viewer.  No doubt the crystalline, half transparent glass she used is meant to hint at the vulnerability of nature, its tenuous relationship to the growths of junk food that mysteriously emerge from them, transmuting the natural world into an unnatural one. Despite attempting to compel the viewer to address the dysfunction of these curious fruits, Elliot unintentionally makes them an idiosyncratic source of fascination. We want to unravel them. 

In the case of her series “Questionable Foods” she specifically directed herself to recognize how a relationship to beauty and its connection to forms of organic life, creating fabricated versions of real plants, could be expanded to consider the metaphoric, and also the very real, relationship between nature, food, health, sustenance, indulgence, compulsion, and good and bad versions and ideas of food. In our contemporary society, the movement toward consumption of organic foods as a single base of health and sustenance, and the disavowal of commercially defined “fake” food items, packaged, mass produced foods.

The individual examples within Elliot’s “Questionable Foods” series all riff off the imagery of packaged foods, commercial products rather than real sustenance, with an entertainment factor to their designed exteriors. The types of art works comprising her Questionable Foods series appear in three distinct versions: as her own previous sculptures utilizing commercially designed additions as a form of virus; as food objects covered in a skin of advertisements; and two-dimensional models of ‘his & hers’ gingerbread cookies with commercials for a direct exterior. In one case she builds a large strawberry plastered with advertising images for commercial foodstuffs, as if to say, you want indulgence but here is real sugar. Clearly, the dynamic between appetite and real hunger is central to the experience she is metaphorically presenting. The fracture between appearance and essence has remained constant from the beginning of her career and continues to inform its making even as she departs from a dynamic of beauty alone.

The quandary presented in the Questionable Foods series is not solely premised upon the obvious, but upon a polemic between nature and culture. This polemic not only concerns the issues immediately at hand, but the premise of art-making itself. Nature is essence; it is not only the fruit on the branch but any realization of it as a means of embodying its symbolic power. The branch is sensual and palpably real, even as a glass form it retains much of its appeal; reduced to a sensuous facsimile it serves to provide us with an experience only art can give. Culture, in artistic terms, refers to those manifestations of commonly held beliefs that are projected upon the blank canvas, both a subject matter and a material in and of itself, and in this case because of their commercial manifestations, imposing an illusory quality of value that is merely greed in disguise. Eat this food! Drink this soda! It will make you younger, prettier, richer! It entices with the concept of transformation but ultimately adds little of real value to our daily existence. The transmission of values that originated in myth and legend have become cheapened, and metaphorically foreshortened, by their service to agendas disadvantageous to both health and truth. The artist looks back into the depths of nature, encouraging mystery.


GRACIELA CASSEL | Into The Labyrinth

Art grounds us in an experience that achieves the imprimatur of truth by combining appearances with layers of artifice. Nowhere is this more evident in an art form such as film that relies heavily upon the senses. Graciela Cassel’s films explore the phenomenological dimensions of urban space: the labyrinth of structures both physical and ephemeral. A city presents itself as a massive and endless procession of edifices either near or far, of streets either pristine or decrepit, and of an endless train of strangers who may, in any given circumstance, emerge from anonymity into intimacy with us. Every distance and every dimension of city life offers up myriad possibilities for future experience. This is why they are easy to romanticize, and why they also contribute to a mythology of creative means. Each of her films begins with a central motif, either a real object or place, or some sensory experience that she is attempting to replicate or synthesize. The situation of spectatorship begins to alter the nature of the motif or event itself, so that our experience is likewise transformed.

Cassel presents the city as a vast array of non-sequential aesthetic events that rely on our ability to receive the real as unreal. Any common spot, cinematically portrayed, has the potential to accrue layers of meaning that only the artist-as-auteur can provide. In one work we begin looking up at the elevated subway platform of Queensboro Plaza, where trains cross the East River between Manhattan and Long Island City in their way to points distant in Astoria, Sunnyside, and beyond. The transit system in New York is immense, over a century old, and Byzantine in its operations. It can come to embody a community of its own, a system of streets not unlike those on the ground, that constantly move people around from one place to another. One can spend hours getting from one place to another. But most people have a routine that takes them to or from home, work, shopping, restaurants, bars, movies, gyms, etc. Time spent in transit can be either spent in introspection or denial, enjoying the mass of persons around us or focusing on our own problems. The transit system is a symbol of the city life it aids, enabling its citizens to interact or ignore what stands as the communal culture itself. A city can be defined equally by its uses, by the spaces that allow us to move within it, and Cassel projects the metaphorical and metaphysical aspects of these spaces. The extension of vision through projective media exemplifies the possibilities of understanding how perception changes the object, place, or event actively perceived. Repetitive vision does not merely reinforce logical constructs, since we are concerned with both existence and essence. Water towers, subways, and elevated train tracks contain the phenomenological complexities that Walt Whitman once called “multitudes” because they reflected the forces within his own self; having been such a product of the city, he saw no difference between his body and the body—the organic life, the pulsing centrifuge of humanity in extremis. Cassel likewise shows us how the exterior life of the city can attain mythical levels of association.

Every sequence in Cassel’s films offers up a different example of how the everyday interfaces with the ephemeral, and how the function of the film is to project the viewer into a world of labyrinthine proportions instead of translating that world into normal terms. The viewer actively participates with the fabric of the depicted reality, learning to breathe new air. Three of Cassel’s recent films present the best models for the exemplary exposure to such aesthetic forces: 

City Life (2012) is primarily a detournement of the subconscious as reflective of the images of elevated subway platforms entering and leaving Manhattan through Queensboro Plaza, where the straight and stacked main track presents a dense layering of alternating presence, and departing outwards or arriving inwards, mostly at night, the various trains are transformed from practical conveyances into lines of light like a slowly moving comet across the sky or an electric moving through dark water. 

Accelerate (2013) is a play on motion, though the concept of velocity its title suggests remains only suggestive. The images are all culled from the subways of the city, its tunnels, lights, and the architecture of the trains themselves playing off a spectral view in which the trains themselves seem to merge with their surroundings, creating a cavernous and brooding presence. The film ends with a scene of and endless train of cars shooting on and off the Triboro Bridge on the Astoria side at night, each form like a drop of quicksilver. 

Go To Video

In The Sky (2015) is a romp in the upper reaches of the city, its roofs, where a secret world is revealed, an elliptical metropolis, punctuated in a most idiosyncratic way by those sentinels of the historical past, water towers, whose use is still prevalent but hearkens to an era, or a century, when the non-united city was so disconnected that not only were there five boroughs but each neighborhood was a county unto itself, and water was guarded building by building. The precincts or wards of the past have all but disappeared and the endless column of buildings creates a frame on the lower level equaled only above by the limit to which our imagination cannot follow. Water towers become animated, floating, or leaping in sections from the solid ground up to an airy firmament, and the birds sing to accompany their flight. 

Without human agents in view, but only the subjects of their sensory experiences, filled to a degree of overload, Cassel’s films are evidence of an experience we can cumulatively share. Each one depicts not a single scene but myriad points of view merged and morphed into an event that defies simple description. Cassel has said that he work is about portals and labyrinths. They are about an experience that transcends utility, becoming a metaphor for transformation. 

Cassel alternates between recognizable surroundings and the deeper or less discernible characteristics of a world in which everyone and everything is constantly in motion; the spaces defined by seemingly eternal structures: elevated train trestles, interboro bridges, water towers lining an endless ridge of roofs; and vast subterranean spaces. She drawn us to the tangent between space and idea, where a map unfurls that matches the exact universe we know without being the same environment but instead its doppelganger. The entire fabric of the known has been altered, we have in fact moved into new territory, a maze of discovery that never ends. We are blissfully lost and thank her for it.


AMY SANDS | A Beautiful Noise

REVOLUTION V (2015), Monotype, serigraphy. and lasercut on three layers of rice paper, 29 x 29 inches

The art of Amy Sands presents models by which we may interpret the primordial structures and charismatic energy around us. A certain approach to artistic creation belies a felicitous understanding of what is most essential, misunderstood, or obscured in nature, and redirects it to our aesthetic comprehension. Printmaking is about process, and each of the names that are given to the types of prints carry with them the association we have to a particular process and its resulting product, which carries with it the aura of action that preceded it. Yet complexity can enter into the welter of intentions that aid in the conceptualization of these works. If the artist has ideas about her final product that carry over from other creative disciplines, such as sculpture or lace making, then the proliferation of stylistic motifs will dominate the work’s appeal, and will diverge from the assumption of traditional print making practices. This sort of dynamic is actively present in Sands’ work, and her ability to conceive it and progressively transform her medium will not only challenge the viewer but will alter how we think about art. Individually and cumulatively Sands builds an esthetic that envelops the viewer with a connection to medium and its manifestation of specific beauty.

To speak of printmaking in general is not to immediately understand how Sands interprets it. Sands does not merely construct a base image from which to create repeated impressions. She makes works that promote an ephemeral quality, with serigraphs and mono prints often combined in the same composite work. Her impetus is to create a layered effect that disingenuously plays out the ephemeral aspects on all of two or three sheets in concert with one another, leaving the viewer to question the constructs by which we judge surface detail—when in fact what she is after is a sort of visual noise.

REVOLUTION VII (2015), Monotype, serigraphy, and lasercut on three layers of rice paper, 15 x 15 inches

The attraction to circles in Sands’ recent work possesses a range of available metaphor. Most notably, these forms were for the most part absent in early bodies of work, which attempted to achieve degrees of ephemerality within a deepening field of backgrounded hues, yet to fill in the middle and fore ground with naturally opposed tonal and graphical forms. Her newest work focuses upon the tonal qualities which illuminated past bodies of work yet were perhaps passed over by viewers in an attempt to read surface markings, dense and diverse as they were, rather than take in the work as a whole. Her new work is a Revolution in more than title. The paper, left to its raw state and dramatized by minute lighting, creates a dissolving silhouette with romantic undertones. The work is achieved in some cases by lasercutting the immensely fragile rice paper so that stacks of similar sheets press into the blank spaces, creating a crush of material, though it’s only where the lattice of each sheet interfaces with the fugitive sources of illumination that its full effect transforms the experience for the viewer. An incandescent quality animates these works, and is especially present in Revolution V, VII, and VIII, in which the use of layered sheets of rice paper creates an effect that glows upon the wall like the lost light of a distant star. The effect of combining, within the same series, works that emit an otherworldly illumination with ones that present the filigreed, seemingly dexterous details of handmade embroidery, compels the use of mere esthetic attention to come out of the shadows.

REVOLUTION VIII (2015), Monotype, serigraphy. and lasercut on three layers of rice paper, 15 x 15 inches

Beauty is elusive despite being constructive in these works. There is a timelessness to circular forms, what in some cases takes on the fossilized appearance of a sand dollar, while in another example her use of laser cuts made through color-infused paper implies the filigreed stitching of lace curtains or stained glass windows. The use of illumination—of real time, durational light, ephemeral, that is to say transient and even fleeting as in nature, is essential to a quality aesthetic encounter with Sands’ work; though given its vulnerability, this would additionally foreshorten the life of her materials. Yet to see them only on a computer screen or in a catalogue is not to give justice to what is strongest in them. The extremely minute aspect of her materials and their reliance upon chromatically charged elements, releasing a cumulative effect through the free flow of forces such as light and wind, like blood or water, projects a quality of charismatic personification, as if nature itself were speaking with us.


RICHARD M RIVERA | Out of The Dark

The act of painting is one of revelation. It does not happen all at once, like a miracle, though that is its effect. If successful it affects the viewer so completely that they are transformed from the inside out. Aesthetic recognition connects a manifestation of the texture and matter of reality to a reasoned understanding of what the world is about, who we are within it, and how a force such as art can alter both, while remaining resolutely unique. It takes time to adjust to the aesthetic at work in an advanced artist’s oeuvre. Artists often connect to an aesthetic that may be removed from the contemporary scene, yet they choose their approach because it represents the dynamic most central to their world view. From a time before the invention of history, when mankind was in its infancy, with limited comprehension of the universe, there was still an inkling that possibilities existed beyond their reach. The night sky revealed tiny sparks of light, campfires suspended in a sea of blackness, like their own campfire defining the safety of home.   
To peer into Richard Rivera’s paintings is like having an intimate view into the mysteries of creation. Daily life does not appear here, nor do politics, art trends, or social attitudes. We are faced with matter itself on a quantum scale. Rivera is an artist for whom the mysteries of existence take the shape of scientifically specific elements common to the universe. Why imagine the essential abstraction originating out of the mind when it surrounds the Earth in all directions infinitely, in a multiplicity of forms and  energies, and is open to individual interpretation as well as having been objectively studied by a range of scientists. Rivera is fascinated with darkness and what can be found there. We are talking specifically here of what Gene Roddenberry called “The Final Frontier,” of the space all around Planet Earth, stretching to infinity in all directions, and not merely the unknown recesses of man’s imagination—though like either scientifically defined or fantastically inspired versions, his own work takes both imagination and time to confront. The active depiction of visual obscurity might seem in opposition the quality of revelation, yet if we consider that knowledge is to be deciphered or sourced rather than merely read; if we understand that comprehension is as imperfect as the senses; and if we can feel our way around an art work and not merely reduce it to ideas or commonsensical platitudes, then it can open up to us and expand both the world and our way of looking at it. This is what Richard Rivera intends in his fascinating, dynamic, and obscure works.  

THE DREAMER AT REST Oil on Sintra, 60 x 48 inches

We find that each of Rivera’s paintings are, in their own way, a different kind of animal. Some resemble organic or subatomic forms photographed through a microscope, or viewed through a periscope deep beneath the surface of the ocean, where native flora and fauna exist in the absence of sunlight. They contain some recognizable forms such as silhouettes of animals, faces peering with a sidelong glance out from behind the frisson of his brushwork, and objects such as a man fishing in a boat, a train car, and many others that mutably merge with the background, floating back and  forth between clarity and obscurity, eyes and fingers slipping into view now and then. There is little attempt to make anthropological forms, though it’s nearly impossible for the aesthetic attention of the viewer to engage with a morass of detail without instinctually organizing it into forms that serve a metaphorical, and subsequently narrative logic. If we can place a thing, however fragmentary and forlorn, into the void, then we can imagine its story.
Consider ‘The Dreamer at Rest’—looking at the picture we see a literal briar patch of active forms, all issuing from a void in the center. The dream itself is indiscernible, full of shifting forms and colors, yet we can imagine that the dreamer at rest is a person fulfilling their conscious life. Dreaming is sometimes a pleasure and sometimes a burden but it is an activity by which we are subconsciously connected to a world in which nature extends beyond reason. The dreamer “at rest” is a person not dreaming, yet the dream—the palimpsest of meaning in metaphysical manifestation—remains constantly active, creating new dreams, giving birth to life that we can only see and communicate with when our eyes are closed.
 A QUANTUM CREATION CONNECTION Oil on Sintra, 60 x 48 inches

A similar dynamic is at work is ‘A Quantum Creation Connection’ though in this case we are regarding less the unconscious and more the actual matter of cosmic events. Rivera regards the universe as not merely an immense void but as an incubator in  which “dark matter” is literally alive. Just because mankind feels it has evolved to a position by which it can perceive and judge all the levels within and beyond itself, it may yet be willfully ignorant of levels of creation that are taking place now on an infinite scale not only beyond the horizon but at subatomic levels within our own atoms. Evolution is a process with its own intentions in mind.   

A final example among the many present in Rivera’s work is one in which the metaphor seems to ground it decisively. “The Emergence of Life” presents us with a monochromatic scene that resembles a grainy black and white photograph of an archeological dig in which Pterodactyl skeletons are sheathed in layers within fossilized rock, their long beaks filled with teeth and their eye sockets staring blankly past the extinction level event that forever froze them in the evolutionary chain. The discovery of these remains was one of the flashpoint moments in our reckoning with the erasure of times past. Not only did it make clear a lot about prehistory that was not known, but it gave us a sense of how completely the event that ended all life was proof that we are still living on the edge of darkness. The Earth floats within a seething cauldron of potentially devastating energies, a space for potential change that could alter the sum total of mankind’s fate at any moment. The universe is immense, beyond complete reckoning. But Richard Rivera gives us clues for how to peer into it, how to live in the dark with courage and joy.     
THE EMERGENCE OF LIFE Oil on Sintra, 60 x 48 inches


Sandra Gottlieb at The New York Hall of Science

October Waves 2013, No. 17

It is easy to misconstrue the photographic work of Sandra Gottlieb, which is entirely non-traditional when it comes to its overall theme, yet at the same time it connects with esthetic pleasures usually reserved for painters. The type of movement found in Gottlieb's photographs, the manner by which she captures it, and the appeal it presents, are unique to her process. There is something very removed from time in her work. She is what most would call a nature photographer but her works are not created in order to adorn the pages of National Geographic. They depict the ocean as a canvas, not as a setting or backdrop for people or sea life to enact the usual dramas. A poet might call her a stenographer of the sublime, annotating the randomness of tidal force while allowing it to impose itself upon the moral consciousness of viewers, who will not be able to peer away from the images no matter how overwhelming they may seem. Primal force is her theme, and man's insignificance before it is what usually gets translated into poetic language rather than stand for itself.  

October Waves 2013, No. 24

In Gottlieb’s photographs there is no attempt at personification, no need for allegory—the ocean is expressive enough all on its own. She has photographed the ocean in several different ways, but in “October Waves” she wanted to avoid any sense of external reality, a focus solely upon the wave sections that are far enough from the shore,mind up close enough to the water’s surface, as to avoid framing it in a physical context that would suggest the romanticism if skyward expanses, which carry their own abstract disposition, or the shoreline, where human agency or at the least competing perspectives, come into play. No people, no birds or even fishes are in evidence, only water, and the roiling, dashing, bubbling dance it makes covering two thirds of the earth’s surface. These scenes are so divorced from our expectations of nature that we are hard pressed to come up with metaphors to aid us. But we don't need to translate Gottlieb’s subject, only to make its material our especial focus. In 30 color images she traces the waves from a mysterious point where the swells originate, and through every gesture, to where they finally give up their energy and fall in the shore like defeated beasts, to be absorbed back into the ground and be replaced by an endless continuum of waves, all feeding the energy of the earth, a watery and immense motor.  The beauty of this we call the sublime because we liken it to an unglimpsed godhead, but like time itself, the tide has no memory, it only moves on.


David Gibson is a writer and curator native-born and bred in New York City, the New York Art World, and the greater world extending in all directions. He and Jennifer Junkermeier recently curated the exhibition “Beauty’s Burden” at The Ernest Rubenstein Gallery of the Educational Alliance. He is availlable to write essays for artist and gallery websites and catalogues.