Liberal Arts Roxbury (LAR), a newly opened art gallery downtown Roxbury, is hosting Cy Wagner: Black Lines & Quadrants, a solo art show dedicated to local painter Cy Wagner (1926 – 2016), who spent the last two decades of his life exploring various artistic subjects and styles, ranging from still life to Pop art and geometric abstraction. Wagner, an architect and urban planner, drew inspiration from the works of Rauschenberg and other abstract painters, and produced a significant number of acrylics and drawings which he grouped in thematic series, like the two currently on view at LAR. These are works produced in the late 1980s – early 1990s, after Wagner retired from the National Capital Planning Commission in Washington D.C., and began commuting between New York City and Roxbury, in the Catskill Mountains.
Cy Wagner: Black Lines & Quadrants is the first gallery exhibition of Wagner’s work. The show, which includes around two dozen large acrylic paintings as well as drawings (some of whom already sold), will remain on view through mid-June. Liberal Arts Roxbury is open Saturdays from 11 am to 5 pm, and by appointment. The gallery is located at 53525 State Hwy 30 in Roxbury, NY, the site of the former Orphic Gallery.
This weekend, Saturday and Sunday, July 29 – 30, from 11 am to 5 pm over twenty artists in Roxbury, Halcottsville, Margaretville, Fleischmanns, Halcott Center, and Arkville will open their studios to the public, and show their working spaces as part of the AMR – Artists Making aRt ™ – Open Studios Tours 2017.
A good place to start the tour is the Wawaka Grange in Halcottsville, which is true to its original function as a Grange and General Store. Refreshments, bathrooms, and handicap access are available at this location. Several artists will be showing at the Grange, including painters Sophia Maduri and Oneida Hammond.
For the first time this year Art in the Catskills will participate, and present and sell books at the Grange. “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills” will be offered at a discounted price. The book pays homage to the Catskills’ vibrant artistic life, and its long tradition as a magnet for artists and writers from all over the world. The region is known as the place where American art was born, through the works of landscape painters Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church, affiliated with the Hudson River School of Painting, and writers Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, who wrote specifically about American realities.
Alix Travis, one of the founding members of the tour, will once again open her studio located at 103 Bragg Hollow Road in Halcottsville. An established plein air painter, Alix has received several awards and recognitions, including signature status in the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society and the New York Plein Air Painters. In 2014 she published The Catskill Coloring Book, which includes twenty-six plein air watercolor paintings. This weekend, during the open studios tour, Alix will paint en plein air, and demonstrate some of her techniques. Alix’s website is https://alixhtravis.com/.
Urban realist painter Lisbeth Firmin will be showing oil paintings and monotype prints at her studio in the Commons Building in Margaretville. Lisbeth is known for works such as Fifth Avenue (1995), and Woman on a Train (2014). This past spring Lisbeth traveled to Venice, and enrolled in Scuola Internationale di Grafica where she perfected her monotype printing technique. Lisbeth explains that her work is really not about the colors, but about the light and shadow in the composition which she captures masterfully. Lisbeth is featured in “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills.” Her website is http://lisbethfirmin.com/.
New this year, internationally renowned sculptor Brian Tolle will open his studio located in a repurposed Catholic church in Roxbury. Brian is known for The Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City (2002), and more recently for Miss Brooklyn and Miss Manhattan, two replicas of Daniel Chester French originals that sit on the façade of the Brooklyn Museum – Brian’s replicas were installed on Flatbush Avenue by the Manhattan Bridge in December 2016. In 2015 The University at Albany’s Art Museum hosted a retrospective show titled Bordering Utopia: Sculptures by Brian Tolle, exploring the artist’s evolution over time. Brian’s studio is located at 53266 State Hwy 30 in Roxbury. He is one of the artists featured in “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills.” Brian’s website is http://briantollestudio.com/.
Abstract painter Adam Cohen will also open his studio for the first time this year. Adam is known for works such as Intuition (2015), a finalist in the Art Olympia International Competition in Tokyo, Japan, and Mystic Marsh (2014), shown at the Morren Galleries in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Adam is an intuitive painter whose style has been defined as Gestural Abstraction; his paintings are very much sculptural, and have a visceral look and the kind of inexhaustibility that the artist strives to achieve in his work. Adam’s studio is located at 53856 State Hwy 30 in Roxbury. He is also featured in “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills.” Adam’s website is http://www.adamcohenstudio.com/.
Poet and painter Esther De Jong, a former fashion model, will be showing her watercolors, oil paintings, and charcoal and pencil drawings at her studio located at 50 Maple Lane in Roxbury. Esther, who is formally trained at the National Academy of Art and Design, co-founded by Thomas Cole in 1825, refers to her paintings as “lyrical images” of her poetry: she often creates haikus accompanied by images that reflect her daily life experiences in the Catskills, a mood, or a feeling that is thus being immortalized on paper or canvas. Although Esther loves figural painting, she is also very much attracted to botanical themes, and finds inspiration in the Catskills’ changing seasons, particularly in the spring. Esther’s website is http://www.estherdejongpoetics.com.
Although not formally trained as a painter, Michael Guilmet has been painting still lifes, landscapes, and portraits pretty much his entire life, growing up with family and friends interested in art. Trained as a magician, Michael had lived in Beverly Hills, Dallas, and New Mexico before moving to the Catskills in 2014. His interests in art theory, history, and philosophy are ubiquitous in his paintings which he says must “evoke an unexpected emotion.” Michael does not think as having a style of his own – he can do works on commission in any style, and can approach any subject; but design is always the idea behind all his drawings and paintings. “A strong design is the driving force behind my work,” he explains. Michael shares his studio at 50 Maple Lane in Roxbury with Esther De Jong. His website is http://www.mcguilmet.com.
Artists Peter Yamaoka and Gerda Van Leeuwen met in a Boston airport in the early 1980s as they were both traveling to and from Provincetown. They married three years later. Peter studied at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, while Gerda received a degree in art from the University of Utrecht in her native Netherlands. In college both Peter and Gerda studied painting. Later in their artistic careers, they specialized in printmaking: Peter chose lithographs, while Gerda directed her attention to etchings. Since moving to the Catskills in the early 1990s both artists switched to ceramics: Peter prefers voluminous mythology-inspired vases, while Gerda makes small porcelains inspired by animal life. Both artists are featured in “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills.” Their studios are located at 777 Carroll Hinkley Road in Roxbury.
Also in Roxbury, painter Ellen Wong is the recipient of many grants and fellowships, including the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Grant Program, as well as a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She studied in the Art Department at Brooklyn College with Philip Pearlstein, known for reviving realist figurative painting in the 1960s. Initially trained as an abstract painter, in time Ellen discovered that what she really wanted to do in life was landscape: “I noticed that every time I went somewhere I always brought with me my watercolors, and I always sketched where I was; somehow that’s how I got to understand, absorb or take in a new environment – I felt very sensitive to place. And it was a good way for me to get to know a place.” Ellen’s studio is located at 121 Shephard Lane in Roxbury. This year she will be showing some studio drawings and still life watercolors as well as plein air work. Ellen currently has a show at Longyear Gallery in Margaretville which will remain on view through August 7. Ellen’s website is https://ellenwongfinearts.com/.
Studio visits trigger questions that aren’t often asked in formal settings such as galleries and museums, and provide access to an intimate space that the artist doesn’t often share with anyone else.
The AMR – Artists Making aRt ™ – Open Studios Tour 2017, sponsored by MURAL Gallery in Stamford and participating artists, is made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) Decentralization Grant Program, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, administered in Delaware County by the Roxbury Arts Group (RAG), and additional funding from The A. Lindsay & Olive B. O’Connor Foundation.
How Art Is Made: In the Catskills is a collection of interviews with some of the world’s most accomplished artists who live and work in the Catskill Mountains, New York. Five painters and illustrators, two ceramicists and printmakers, one sculptor, one weaver, and one writer discuss what inspires and moves them, what draws them to their medium of choice, what materials they use, how they approach a new artistic project, how they deal with setbacks, and how they celebrate success. Nine are formally trained at prestigious art schools; one is self-taught. What they all have in common is a rigorous studio practice, discipline, and the desire and curiosity to learn new things, and share them with the world.
Amy Masters has been an artist all her life. Formally trained as a painter and printmaker, she pursued a degree in Interior Design at the Parsons School of Design, and worked as a draftsman for an engineering firm in New York City, before dedicating herself exclusively to painting and drawing. For over two decades, she taught in the New York City’s public school system, and spent her summers painting and drawing the world around. Moving to the Catskills in 2006, she was suddenly given far more space and limitless opportunities for inspiration. Amy likes to think about her work as being inspired by the natural world and the actual objects and vistas around her studios. But she likes to re-arrange and re-envision the landscape in the abstract. What is important to an abstract painter, says Amy, is the relationship between colors, lines and shapes, and the complexities of pattern and texture that emerge at the end of the process.
I spoke with Amy in her studio in Arkville, New York, earlier this summer.
Simona David: Amy, let’s talk a bit about your training.
Amy Masters: As an undergraduate student, I was a studio art major at Ohio State University in Athens, Ohio. I mostly studied painting and drawing. Then I wanted to come back to New York, and went to Sarah and Lawrence College in Westchester. I studied for about three years under Ansei Uchima, a phenomenal printmaker. And then I started my life, just working different jobs. I ended up working with my dad, who was an engineer. I worked as a draftsman, drawing plans – that was before computers. And then I went back to school and studied interior design. For a while I worked in an architecture firm, doing architectural design – I thought that was kind of a creative job. That’s where I met my husband, Ted Sheridan, who is an architect. All the while I was still painting; I had a couple of shows in the City. Fast forward, I went into teaching, and continued to paint, mostly throughout the summer, when I had time off from school. When I moved to the Catskills, ten years ago, I got all this space to work, and that’s when I feel like I got really serious about it.
SD: Do you think that moving to the country has helped your career as an artist?
AM: Absolutely. The environment informs my work. My work has always been about the place where I am.
SD: I’m reading a book What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy. Ultimately Tolstoy defines art as the transmission of an emotion felt by the artist, and calls it an infectious phenomenon. What moves you, as an artist?
AM: That changes. As an artist of course you’d like to think that your work has improved over time. You get better, just because you’re doing it: the muscles get stronger, you get more confident, the dexterity improves, everything. But going back to just what moves you, I think that has changed dramatically for me. The things that I’m drawn to now I wasn’t drawn to before. And I see things in other artworks that teach me something new or move me in some way I didn’t think possible.
SD: Where do you start a new project?
AM: That’s a really good question, because I do feel like I get onto something and I can’t stop. Sometimes it would be just the strangest thing. For instance, the feather print series – I don’t know where I first got the idea of this feather. There is something about the object itself, it’s very fluid. And I was thinking how unique, how individual each feather is, and that resonated with the process. Each time you make a print, it’s completely different.
SD: Let’s take a closer look at this series.
AM: There are different versions. Some are just monotypes, one-time prints, made with a soy based ink that I was experimenting with. I took a printmaking class in the City – an etching class, and had access to all sorts of equipment there, and began to explore what I could do with an etching. I made hard ground etchings where you just draw on a plate, and then etch it in a bath. I’ve also made actual impressions of feathers: you lay the feather onto the copper plate, it picks up the image, and then you remove the object, and etch it, and that’s what you get. It’s an amazing process.
SD: What kind of paper do you use?
AM: Some are done on rice paper, others on printing paper. A lot of the etching is done on printing paper.
SD: I see other types of prints in your collection.
AM: I was doing etchings, and just couldn’t stop. And from there I thought, oh, I could do other botanicals. And the leafy quality of the feathers made me think of roots. So I started doing a root series. From there I don’t know how I got into these.
SD: Bird nests?
AM: Yes. Keeping with the botanic idea, I started to do the nests. And inspired by the nests, I started doing a new kind of monotype: wiped monotypes. I would start with a plate full of ink; and then it’s more of a reductive process. I like these two images together. One reminded me of the sky at night – the galaxy; and the other one is a nest.
SD: What an unexpected association! Especially if you see them from a distance.
AM: Yes, I like that. From doing these, I got into this wiping process. I use a reverse surface roll. With an etching you push the ink into the etch line. With the surface roll, it’s reverse: it’s like a relief process, when you’re just keeping the ink on the surface, and you don’t want it to go into the etch line. It’s tricky. But you get a different kind of image. It’s interesting to try it a couple of different ways. For the past year or so I’ve only been doing prints – learning the medium, and the limitations of it. With printmaking there really aren’t any limits: you can do tremendous things.
SD: Let’s talk about your paintings. You’ve been a painter your entire life. Abstract painter. I know that your approach has changed over time, especially after moving to the country. How about your color palette?
AM: My palette changes a lot. I get into a color palette, and I work on it until I feel like I exhausted all the possibilities. Late last summer I did a series of white paintings. I don’t know how I got into this subtle palette, but I just wanted things to be very peaceful. I was looking for a way to convey that. I like to use a little bit of red, because it makes everything else look so much calmer. Generally, I like a limited palette. One reason I’m attracted to prints is their limited palette. Then you have to think about other things like the image, and the composition.
SD: What do these paintings represent?
AM: These are trees. It’s the landscape.
SD: I’m just wondering how you name your paintings. As an abstract painter, if you name your paintings in a fashion that doesn’t really give people any hint of what they’re looking at, I imagine it makes the whole experience more intriguing.
AM: The naming of work is a really curious thing to me. Sometimes it’s very obvious, other times more mysterious. For instance, some of the feather work I’ve done began to look very fossil-like to me. I began to name them “Fossil I,” Fossil II,” etc. They kind of look like something that was left in a stone.
SD: Let’s talk a bit about the artistic process.
AM: It’s always an idea that I start with. For instance, there is this orchard on the Thruway. In the winter all the trees look like big hands, and fingers. I wanted to pursue that idea for a while: the idea of these finger-like trees. I got distracted by printmaking, and were put aside for now.
SD: How do you know when a painting is done?
AM: It’s such an elusive thing. I guess when there is nothing more you can bring to it. You don’t want to overwork it.
SD: Talk about your transition to country life.
AM: I really struggled in the City. We have a very small apartment, so it’s very hard to set up things. I had periods when I had a lot of materials in the studio, and painted a lot. Printing, on the other hand, is very portable, I would just bring it back and forth with me. I could print all winter in the City.
SD: How has your daily routine changed after moving to the country?
AM: In the past few years it’s become really important to spend a few hours daily in the studio. Even if I’m not producing a new piece of work, it’s really important that I commit to spending time in the studio. I could be cleaning, or doing research, or just doing anything to be in this space. I like a book called Rituals – it’s about artists’ daily routines. It maps out what everybody does. For instance, some writers would take walks and think. I like to get up early, and garden for a bit, and then come in the studio and work six – seven hours. I try to get a swim in there, if I can.
SD: Who are your influences?
AM: I love Turner. Bonnard was an early influence of mine, for his colors. I like Morandi, an Italian painter of the early 20th century. Morandi is a painter who uses a very limited palette. I adore his still life bottles. You can really feel the artist’s presence in all his work.
SD: Looking back at all the work you’ve done as a painter and printmaker, is there any piece in particular that you can call your favorite work?
AM: It’s a painting called “Rocks in the Pool.” It was painted on an island in Maine. I think it’s my favorite, because it’s me – I think this painting really is me as a painter. The colors reflect what I was seeing. It’s a magical place that I like to remember. I struggled a bit, because I’m not a realist painter. But I just wanted to paint what I was seeing.
The Erpf Center in Arkville is hosting The Poetics of Space, an art show featuring the works of abstract painter Fred Guyot. Guyot, who received his MFA from Brooklyn College, studied with famous Philip Pearlstein in the 1960s, and developed a style characterized by rich, bold colors. The Poetics of Space includes works produced between 1990 and 2010, and will remain on view through May 27. For more information, visit http://catskillcenter.org/events/fred-guyot.