Illustrious at Eclipse Mill Gallery

North Adams Exhibition to October 3

By: - Sep 08, 2010

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Eclipse Mill Gallery
243 Union Street

North Adams , Mass.

September 3 through October 3

Hours: Saturdays and Sundays, Noon to 5 PM
Curated by Charles Giuliano and Astrid Hiemer

Artists: Barbara Armata, Susan Baker, Varujan Boghosian, Shepherd Fairey, Robert Henriquez, Astrid Hiemer, Bruce Koscielniak, Howard Cruse, Erika Marquardt, Melanie Mowinski, Marianne R. Petit, Robert Rendo, Thor Wickstrom.

Last year Astrid Hiemer undertook a project to identify, interview and publish an article on the artists that reside in our home town of Adams, Mass. Although a small community in the Berkshires she found a vital mix of artists. Some we already knew but there were exciting discoveries.

One of these is a phenomenal illustrator, Barbara Armata, whose work I first encountered only when we were installing the exhibition Illustrious which remains on view in the Eclipse Mill Gallery in North Adams through October 3.

In many ways Armata was the inspiration for the current exhibition of ten artists from Adams and North Adams as well as four individual works on loan from a private collection.

There was excitement and inspiration when Astrid discussed her research. She was particularly enthusiastic about Barbara whom I have only met recently. As we discussed her illustrations the pieces started to fall into place. We knew and have exhibited Bruce Koscielniak in past Eclipse projects. He came to our attention during the first Berkshire Salon in 2008. That led to including him in the project What’s So Funny. Two other artists from that show, Howard Cruse and Robert Rendo, are included in Illustrious.

As we discussed the theme of narrative art and illustrated books more and more individuals were appropriate for the project. Not everyone published books but that was a common ground. Some works fall under the category of illustration or posters. Hence the generic title of Illustrious.

There  emerged a dichotomy between commercial publications and hand made, limited edition, artists’ books. As we explored the vast potential of this genre there was a decision to limit the search to artists and works that were readily available. The Eclipse is an artist run venue with limited resources.

It is a great statement about the community that an exhibition of this depth and quality has been developed entirely from artists living and working in Adams and North Adams. That compares to when I ran the exhibition program at Suffolk University and had the city of Boston to work with. From time to time, on a limited budget, I managed to bring in artists from New York.

Considering the constraints and limitations this is a truly remarkable exhibition. It was also a chance for Astrid and I to work together on a project from start to finish. In particular she brought an attention to detail as well as relating to and working with individual artists.
In bringing this show to fruition there has been a complex and sustained critical dialogue. The artists and works are ingredients that come together in a creative dialogue when they are installed as an exhibition.

In that sense, for us, the exhibition is unique with many confluences and revelations.

Presented side by side on two counter tops, for example, there is a galvanic and riveting interaction between the hand made books of Melanie Mowinski and Marianne R. Petit. If you examine their works they use similar techniques for cutting and folding. The initial impact of the pieces evoke similar responses until you absorb their details.

Petit has been inspired by the horrific children’s stories of Struwwelpeter (1845) by Heinrich Hoffmann. These are stories that Astrid grew up with in Germany. The pieces are delicious and so amazingly inventive as is all of her work. A few years ago we enjoyed the musical Shock Headed Peter in London. So this is material that has rich and special resonance for Astrid.

The books by Melanie came to our attention not long before the deadline for the show. Astrid made a studio visit and has worked closely with Melanie. During the installation she wanted to show a series of small watercolors she created during a residence, the first such, at Bascomb Lodge on Mount Greylock. We created a string line on the brick wall behind the counters to which she affixed a selection of the many images.

Armata, who doesn’t often exhibit her work, brought a large number of pieces for the hanging. We worked with her to reduce the selection for a salon style arrangement. There is also a selection of published books including The Sorcerer's Crusade Companion. Talking about the work I asked where she had trained and if she went on line to find models and images to use in the fantasy creation? The answer was surprising as she is largely self taught and the images come entirely from her imagination. Wow.

Both Bruce Koscielniak and Thor Wickstrom publish commercial children’s books. Thor creates about one per year. While the books are a source of income both artists state that it is an off shot of their studio practice. For this show Bruce surprised us by hanging a triptych of abstract paintings, dark and moody, with text from Macbeth. Many artists have commented on their power and impact. They certainly stretch the notion of Illustrious.

Howard Cruse publishes comic books. For What’s So Funny we selected a series of comic strips. At the time he was new to exhibiting the work so we put it up with glass and gallery clips. It was a bit of an adventure as Howard got his fingers sliced handling the glass. This time he framed the pieces. Smart guy. There is a large central image and then it is flanked with four, smaller scaled, color separations. It is from a new book Stuck Rubber Baby.

During our recent 33 day, 6,500 mile tour of the USA from the Berkshires and back via Cleveland, down to Marfa, Texas, through New Mexico, Arizona to Utah, then Colorado, Kansas and home. Astrid worked on a small diary. She has enhanced that with collaged memorabilia for the book The Roads of North America. It has also been published on BFA. For this installation she reduced some 1500 images down to 33 as a slide show in a mounted frame. She is also displaying a poem/ book written on 9/11.

Next to Hiemer’s work on the counter is a hand made, painted book by the German artist Erika Marquadt as well as a painting “What Did Your Father Do During the War.” The artist often collaborates with Susan Erony on Holocaust related themes.

When installing a show it is important to consider its impact on viewers. The spot directly in front of the door, between two windows, makes the strong first impression. It sets the clock for a tour around the space. It’s high noon at the OK Corral. That’s where you want to park the heater.

For this pride of place we hung a Shepherd Fairey poster “Obey.” You will recall him as the controversial designer of the notorious Obama campaign poster. When we included Fairey in the press release we had calls from journalists inquiring if he would show up for the opening. We wish.

Just to the left of the Fairey poster is the small, hand painted cover for the Susan Baker book a hilarious History of Provincetown. She is an eccentric from the Lower Cape who has created many humorous artist’s books.

A number of artists expressed interest in the work of Varujan Boghosian. He was for many years a member of the the faculty of Dartmouth College. The work on display is from a poster for a play at Dartmouth.

When Eric and Barbara Rudd ran the Contemporary Artists Center in the Beaver Mill the Haitian born artist, and former CBS producer, Robert Henriquez, was a frequent visiting artist. We first met there and have maintained a critical discourse ever since. The two digital prints in this show, which combine literary quotes with program derived images, have a rich and poetic substructure. He displayed a series of these images recently in the summer long Down Street project. It was a pleasure to see the work in the context of Illustrious.

Over the past several years we have had a dialogue with Robert Rendo who has been developing a diverse body of editorial illustrations. The challenge is to take very complex ideas and concepts and to reduce them to a visual signifier. This is intended to complement a text but the images also stand up on their own. As one who has worked entirely with media the notion of framing and exhibiting the work is still a relatively new idea.

This is precisely what Illustrious has been all about. To take work that is normally presented in another manner and create a new context. Taking the book off the shelf of a library, and propping it up, or displaying individual pages on the wall. It suggests new paradigms and opportunities. It allows for artists and viewers to think about and interact with the work in different ways. That has been the challenge and reward for this project. It would be nice to consider that exhibition has changed us. Hopefully, it leads to the next projects.