Urban realist painter and printmaker Lisbeth Firminwill be teaching “Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain,” a five-day workshop held at MURAL Gallery in Hobart, NY, Monday through Friday, August 28 – September 1. Firmin is known for works such as Fifth Avenue (1995), and Woman on a Train (2014). This past spring she traveled to Venice, and enrolled in Scuola Internationale di Grafica where she perfected her monotype printing technique. Firmin is one of the artists featured in “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills.”
This workshop will explore drawing as it relates to the right and left brain hemispheres, based on the work of Dr. Betty Edwards. Participants will learn basic strategies of seeing that will enable them to draw with a high degree of skill.
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.
Jen Dragon is the director of Cross Contemporary Art in Saugerties, a gallery dedicated to showing mid-career artists with a connection to New York City, the Catskills and Hudson Valley regions. Dragon has background in online marketing, but she’s also had an extensive career in the arts – over the years she has curated numerous exhibits for non-profit spaces, and organized various community-wide art projects. Dragon holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Purchase College.
Simona David: Please, talk a little bit about your background, your education, and interest in art.
Jen Dragon: I studied at Purchase College in the early 1980s. And there I was trained as a printmaker and painter. I also had a scholarship to study fine arts in Italy for a year. I was trained there as a restaurateur of antique maps and prints. Afterwards, like many artists, I was drawn to the Catskills. Together with my ex-husband I bought a tavern to use as a studio – we fixed it ourselves; this was near the Phoenicia area. I lived there until about a year and a half ago.
SD: Talk about your curatorial experience, and your vision when it comes to putting together a new art show.
JD: I got into curating with non-profit spaces like the Kleinert / James Center for the Arts in Woodstock, and under-utilized spaces like this place at the Emerson Resort that at the time was not being used. It was a challenge, because I was interested in showing large abstract art, and in the country, like where we live, it’s very difficult to find houses that have really big high-ceilings. I was always on the look-out for a loft, a good space to show big paintings. A year ago I had the opportunity to take over a lease on a gallery in Saugerties. It’s tiny – it’s only 650 sq ft, but it has high ceilings, and it has a lot of wall space. And I am now able to show the kind of art that I have always been passionate about. I much prefer to be in the gallery and act as a docent introducing people to art rather than trying to rally everybody behind a large community arts project.
SD: Talk about the curatorial process: where do you start, what is your vision, and how do you get where you want to be with a project?
JD: It’s interesting, because I get to live with an art show for about a month – each show is four week long. And I really get immersed in the artist’s work. At the end of each show I can probably write a dissertation on it. A lot of my choices are governed by the location of my gallery. Given the fact that I’m in Saugerties, which has extraordinary landscapes, I don’t feel like it’s appropriate to show urban art. The artists I tend to choose have an obsession with nature, and I also look for human drama. In sum, the criteria for choosing art have to do with where I am, but I also consider myself as some sort of an educator. It’s more about creating a beautiful show than being a salesman. I encourage the artists to really own the space, and create an installation.
SD: How do you look for artists, or is it the artists who approach you?
JD: I’m always looking at art. It’s important for artists to have their art seen. Because of my limitations, I can only show as many artists. But I keep a file, and I also refer artists to other places. A lot of time artists that I show are referred to me by other artists. The artists that I have been generally showing are in museum collections, or have shown in museums, and to show with me is a certain investment on their part. And they take very seriously who they want to be seen with. And they also refer people to me that they think that I would like. Sometimes I come up with something that I discover on my own. I have shown over eighteen artists so far. I’ve only done one group show.
SD: I like what you said before, that artists like to be seen in the company of other artists, and that’s why art communities are so important. We often judge people by their associations or affiliations, or by the company they keep. Are there any commonalities of themes or styles amongst the artists that you’ve shown? You did mention before that you looked at art centered on nature or human drama.
JD: Yes. I also have a sweet spot for printmaking. I was trained as a printmaker when I was in college in the 1980s, and what was trending back then were these Neo-Impressionist like prints. There were these intense, dynamic painters like Julien Schnabel, Gregory Amenoff, Richard Bosman – these guys were powerhouses. In retaliation to the abstract art, they were going back to figurative painting. And just like the German expressionists, they were also into printmaking. What I learned from artists like these is that the power of the wood cut supports the power of the painting. I knew I was doing something right with my gallery when I approached Gregory Amenoff and Richard Bosman, who were like my rock stars when I was a student, and they agreed to show their work with me.
SD: And I should add that when people think nature, they shouldn’t necessarily think representational art or landscape painting. It could be non-objective art as well. Take for instance Heather Hutchison, who you’ve shown in your gallery.
JD: Yes. What’s fascinating about Heather Hutchison is that her subject matter is light, so she is probably more of a landscape painter than anyone else that I’ve shown. Even though it doesn’t look like landscape, and it looks like a box that is constantly changing colors because of the way the light is coming through it, Heather’s literal subject matter is the changing light itself.
SD: Her work has been shown in many prestigious locations like The Smithsonian in Washington D.C., and she’s also received numerous awards including The Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award.
JD: Yes. She’s also very active locally. She’s in the James / Kleinert Center for the Arts in Woodstock. Her husband Mark Kanter teaches at Columbia University. All the artists that I show are actually very active in the community. In addition to being educators and making art in their studios, these artists are also great art communicators.
SD: What kind of experience do you want your visitors to have when they visit your gallery?
JD: What’s really interesting about showing all these artists is that they work so well together – I can easily have a group show with any of them. Even though they have different styles, they all seem to have the same sort of fascination, the same sort of obsession with art. The common denominator is that they all create amazing spatial environments that the viewer can occupy. That’s my criterion for what I consider art. The mark making is also terribly important. A gestural mark is a brush work with intention, and a certain kind of velocity to it, and these kinds of creations need to form a space that you can inhabit. If art doesn’t have gesture, and it doesn’t have space, it becomes illustration, which is a fine thing, but it’s not deep enough for me. What I look for in art is the space, the intent, and the passion. What I find beautiful is the thing that changes me by looking at it, and changes my relationship to where I am.
SD: You hosted recently a show by Iain Machell. Let’s talk about that.
JD: Iain Machell is the head of the Visual Arts Department at SUNY Ulster. Last summer he got a grant to study at Platte Clove arts residency near Saugerties. And created all these drawings, and paintings, and even some photographs enameled in metal, that were inspired by Platte Clove – he did it in a very short period of time as well. The show at Cross Contemporary Art Gallery included close to thirty pieces of art that Iain created at Platte Clove this past summer. It was an installation – some sort of meditation of ground and water and rocks and crevasses.
SD: I do want to mention that Platte Clove played such an important role in the formation of the Hudson River School of Painting in the 1820s. What is your next show?
JD: My December show is Shira Toren, an Israeli-American artist, who works in New York City, but also has a place in Great Barrington, MA. She does abstract paintings, and also makes prints. Her show is called “Eternal Return.” It opened December 5, and will remain on view through December 27.
SD: What are your plans for the holiday season?
JD: I have been invited to participate in The Decorator’s Holiday Show at the Senate House in Kingston. The Senate House Museum owns a large Victorian house that is being made available to interior designers to decorate it for the holidays. I am the only gallery that was invited to participate. The grand opening was December 4 as part of The Snowflake Festival. I am featuring artists that I have shown over the past year.
SD: What are the gallery’s hours?
JD: The gallery is open from Thursday to Monday from 12 noon to 5 pm. And also by appointment.
For more information about Cross Contemporary Art Gallery, visit