Gallery at R&F, Kingston, New York, 2011
Co-curated with Laura Moriarty

Originally published April 6, 2011

Conversations began as an online exchange between Laura Moriarty and myself about the dialogue that exists between an artist’s primary means of expression and the work s/he does on paper. As artists who work in the very tangible medium of encaustic—Moriarty as a sculptor, me as a painter—our personal dialogues with our work can be demanding, even physical. Working on paper, which for Moriarty is collage and monotype and for me painting with water media, allows for a lightness and freedom in the give-and-take of process. Sometimes ideas flow between mediums; sometimes separate bodies of work emerge.

In the way that conversations between artists often do, ours expanded beyond the personal to discuss the visual discourse we saw in the work of other artists. "Wouldn't it be great to do a show on this idea?" we asked each other, and an exhibition began to take shape. Because our initial chat was on Facebook, it spread out electronically into a network of URLS and emails. We assembled a tantalizing selection of images. Looking at the dialogue within each artist’s work, we speculated on the larger conversations that might take place if all the work were installed together.

Panoramic view as you walk up a short flight of stairs. We're going to walk around the corner in a moment

George Mason

Bright and Clear, 2010; hydrocal plaster, burlap, casein, gold leaf; 49.5 x 37.5

Because Moriarty is the director of the Gallery at R&F, our speculation became an invitation to six artists whose work we felt had affinities; and because of the way the exhibition came about, we co-curators decided to include our own work. There are many conversations in this exhibition. No doubt you will “listen in” on some that we have not heard, such is the nature of personal perception. Let me show you around.

Looking into the gallery you see Steven Alexander's painting and works on paper on the far wall, a Moriarty sculpture on the stand, and my Silk Road paintings on the wall at right. The panoramas below show you the entire gallery in two views 

From the doorway, starting at left: Nancy Azara on the left wall; two by Pam Farrell, one by George Mason, Steven Alexander from center to the end of the far wall; Grace DeGennaro on the right wall; two Moriarty sculptures on stands 

Turning clockwise, with the sculpture to orient you: three by Grace DeGenaro, a Lorrie Fredette installation, my paintings and, through the doorway, a work on paper; two by Nancy Azara

Taking our visual cue from the panorama just above, we're going to travel counterclockwise in the gallery for our tour

Lorrie Fredette

Proper Limits (Truth), 2010; mixed media with discharged paper, wax, resin, soil and muslin

Lorrie Fredette’s sculpture is inspired by the growth and movement of organic systems. In this installation, Fredette has integrated sculptural forms—waxed fabric stretched over a metal armature, along with cast wax and soil forms lined up along the floor—against a paper backdrop depicting what seem to be life under a microscope. The unlikely inspiration for her work is fearsome, like the Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease) shown here, but Fredette has so thoroughly subverted the source material that any discussion centers not on illness but on life. Still, she has upended the scale so that the microscopic looms over a row of tiny houses.

Installation view: Moriarty, De Gennaro, Fredette

Installation view: Moriarty, Alexander, DeGennaro

 Grace DeGennaro

Weaving, 2010, oil on linen; 34 x 21 inches

Grace DeGennaro’s paintings and works on paper seem to occupy a space that hovers between the corporeal and the ethereal. Working symmetrically she paints archetypal forms which, she feels, “transcend both language and culture.” Her personal iconography draws from elements in our world culture and consciousness: mandalas, the Chakras, Byzantine mosaics, ethnic textiles and more. Her dialogue would seem to be between materiality and spirituality, each at their most profoundly beautiful.

Installation view: Alexander, Moriarty

Steven Alexander

Mother Tongue #12, 2010, acrylic on linen, 20 x 16 inches

Steven Alexander’s work is the most seamless between mediums. In his paintings on linen or paper, geometry is distilled into slender rectangles—pure form—centered in color fields that tend toward a secondary or tertiary hue. The dialogue in this work seems to be one of empathic communication, not only between and among the works, but between the works and their viewer. These are painting that connect wordlessly to the triad of eye, heart and mind. A patinated surface, slightly pitted and softly matte, imbues the work with surprising physicality.

Laura Moriarty

Uplift, 2011, encaustic on panel, 16 x 16 x 9 inches

On a more material plane, Laura Moriarty’s sculptures are inspired by plate tectonics. Created through the slow build-up and erosion of stratified wax, these sculptures are illustrations of imagined geologic processes that can be read like core samples or topographical models. Her works on paper (installed on the outer wall of the gallery and shown farther down this post) are abstractions on the Compass Rose, composed of collaged shards of road maps. “You are here,” they suggest—here being an entirely elusive location.

Installation view: Mason, Farrell, DeGennaro

George Mason

At Anchor in the New World, 2010; hydrocal on burlap, and casein paint; 18 x 17 inches

For George Mason, listening is the part of the conversation that interests him. “It turns out that having an idea may be less important than being open to the inquiry for its own sake,” he says. Mason’s inquiry leads him to complex patterns; a reference to the language and symbols of ancient cultures, real or imagined; and a rich and tactile materiality. Indeed, materiality generates its own tête-à-tête: wax and wood, plaster and metal leaf, acrylic suggestive of wax, wax suggestive of fabric, fabric and paper, paper pressed into oil or rubbed over wood. There are many “voices” here.

Pam Farrell

Waterwall 4678, 2010, oil on panel 12 x 12 inches

Pam Farrell’s cascades of soft color are reticent. Memories, traces and vestiges are what she brings forth from those chromatic veils, or perhaps tucks behind them. Her emotional dialogue is “between what is known and what is not.” Formally, Farrell creates a reductive image that is built up from thin layers of paint in muted hues. A visceral eye-to-eye takes place when she places mulberry paper onto the surface of a still-wet painting to pull a monoprint—a trace that remains a lasting imprint. (You'll see a monoprint farther down the post.)

Installation view: Moriarty, foreground; DeGennaro, Azara

Nancy Azara

Black Castle Series; rubbing with collage, oil pastel, paint, pencil on mylar; five sections, 39 x 123 inches

In Nancy Azara’s work, the iconography of one deeply pigmented leaf, repeated, finds its way into carved wood and onto paper into which Azara has rubbed the image of her carvings. The artist’s conversation might thus seem to be a closed dialogue except that the subject, nature refined to the point of spirit, wafts into the consciousness of the viewer, engendering a conversation for which words seem wholly unnecessary.

Installation view: Moriarty, foreground; Azara, Mattera

Nancy Azara

Broken Red Leaves, carved and painted wood with palladium leaf and encaustic, 43 x 11 x 2 inches

Installation view: Azara, Mattera

In a moment we're going to exit the gallery and turn right, but first . . .

Joanne Mattera

Silk Road 136, 2010, encaustic on panel 17 x 17 inches

Below: Soie 5, 2010, gouache on Fabriano, framed 26 x 34 inches

While the diamond shape that appears in DeGennaro’s work may allude to spiritual wisdom, in my work it is simply a chromatic geometry. Light hits the diagonal grain differently. Color appears deeper and more luminous. Formally, the shape asserts itself, pushing rigorously outward while remaining resolutely poised. There is a textile sensibility in my work, as I come from a family of tailors. Speaking generally, the modernist grid and the warp and weft of cloth carry on an intimate conversation. Specifically, there is an inner dialog about material and process as I toggle between working in encaustic on panel—which make a tangible, object-like painting—and the relative lightness of gouache on paper, a conversation I hope these works convey.

Installation views, above and below

Stepping out of the gallery and around the corner, we come to Moriarty's works on paper, waxed map shards that are collaged and pinned,in a composition suggestive of compass points.

Farther down the wall you will glimpse Farrell's and Mason's monoprints, as the image below shows

Installation view from the other end of the wall: Mason's and Farrell's monoprints, with a view below of one of Farrell's works photographed before framing

Pam Farrell

Soft Parade 0012, 2010, monoprint/oil on mulberry paper, 15 x 19 inches unframed

Conversations ran from early April through mid-May, 2011. Participating artists were Steven Alexander (Pennsylvania), Nancy Azara (New York), Grace DeGennaro (Maine), Pam Farrell (New Jersey), Lorrie Fredette (New York), George Mason (Maine), and the two curators, Laura Moriarty (New York), and myself (Massachusetts and New York).