Tag: expressionism

Featured Destination: Cross Contemporary Art Gallery

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.

Winter IV by Katherine Bowling. Contributed photo.
Winter IV by Katherine Bowling. Contributed photo.

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.

Reverse Painting with Silver by Catherine Howe. Contributed photo.
Reverse Painting with Silver by Catherine Howe. Contributed photo.

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.

Labrador Sea by Gregory Amenoff. Contributed photo.
Labrador Sea by Gregory Amenoff. Contributed photo.

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.

Sleepy Golden by Heather Hutchinson. Contributed photo.
Sleepy Golden by Heather Hutchison. Contributed photo.
More Like the Weather by Heather Hutchinson. Contributed photo.
More Like the Weather by Heather Hutchison. Contributed photo.

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.

Platte Clove Lens Installation by Iain Machell. Contributed photo.
Platte Clove Lens Installation by Iain Machell. Contributed photo.

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.

Nebula 2 by Shira Toren. Contributed photo.
Nebula 2 by Shira Toren. Contributed photo.

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

http://www.crosscontemporaryart.com

81 Partition Street, Saugerties, NY 12477

(845) 399-9751

 

© 2015 Simona David

Featured Artist: Lisbeth Firmin

Lisbeth Firmin. Contributed photo.
Lisbeth Firmin. Contributed photo.

Lisbeth Firmin was born in Paducah, Kentucky in 1949. She is a contemporary American realist known for her urban landscapes. For over four decades her work has been in hundreds of solo and group shows across the country and internationally. There was a retrospective exhibition at the Taft School in Watertown, CT in 2011, featuring painting and prints from 1994-2010. In 2010, Firmin’s monoprint, “Heading to Work, Varick Street” won ‘Best in Show’ in WSKG’s annual Art in Motion Competition in Binghamton, NY. Her paintings were included in the 2009 Winter Issue, Stone Canoe Review, Syracuse University. She was cover artist for the 2008 spring issue of Epoch, Cornell University’s literary magazine and was the featured artist in the 2008 summer issue of the Gettysburg Review. Her urban landscape paintings were included in “Five Women Artists in New York,” curated by Ken Ratner, Flushing Town Hall, 2008. Awards include a 2007 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for printmaking (Lily Auchincloss Fellow) and a Merit Award at the 2007 Roberson Regional Art Exhibition, Binghamton, NY, juried by Philip Pearlstein. Firmin was awarded a Community Arts Funding Grant, New York State Council on the Arts in 2007. Other awards include a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, the New York Print Club Emerging Artist Award, the CCVA Award at the Chautauqua Center for the Visual Arts, first prize in the LANA International Arts Competition; along with full fellowships to the MacDowell Colony, National Seashore Residency, the Vermont Studio Center and Saltonstall Arts Colony. She was a guest artist (printmaking) at the Vermont Studio Center from 2001 to 2004, working with master printer Sarah Amos.

Selected publications include: Provincetown Arts, American Artist, American Art Collector, McDougal Littell/LITERATURE, The Boston Globe, Art and Auction, Art of Our Town, The New York Times, Arts Magazine, The Banner (Provincetown), The Albuquerque Journal, and The Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

I spoke with Lisbeth Firmin in her studio in Margaretville, New York.

Simona David: How did you become an artist?

Lisbeth Firmin: This is a picture of me at three. I’m left-handed, and seriously trying to stay in the lines. I started my brilliant career right there.

Lisbeth Firmin as a three-year old. Contributed photo.

SD: One could say that you were born with an innate talent.

LF: What I can say is that I could draw since I could remember. I could always draw something that looked like something. Kids love to draw, and they all draw the same way when they’re young. But when they get older, they want to draw something that looks like something, and can’t – and that’s the difference: I could always do it. So I kept on doing it.

SD: Did your parents notice immediately that you had this amazing talent?

LF: Not immediately, but I started winning scholarships when I was 10 or 11 years old. I was sent to an art institute where we lived. I was sent there with these teenagers and 20 year old artists, and I was only 12. That was an eye-opener.

SD: Were you a mature child, or everybody knew you were just a 12 year old?

LF: Everybody knew, but I was accepted because I could draw, and my drawing had this vigor in it. I was full of energy, and even at that age I had a style of my own.

SD: You already had your own style when you were 12. After forty years of artistic career, do you think you still maintain something of that style?

LF: Yes. I think so.

SD: Do you have formal training as an artist?

LF: No. I won these scholarships to art institutes – one in Indianapolis and one in Los Angeles. I wanted to go to art school, but my father wasn’t going to pay for it – he didn’t think I was serious about it. It was also the late 1960s, and everything was falling apart. I went to the University of California at Santa Barbara for a year in a liberal arts program, and took as much art as I could. I took just exactly what I wanted to take, and got really good grades. The second year I didn’t go back.

SD: So you continued to be self-taught, and continued to draw and paint.

LF: Yes, constantly. It just poured out of me. I was doing all kinds of things: I was doing prints, and drawings, and collages. I didn’t have my subject matter down. What draws me is painting what I see – translating what I see into a painting or a drawing.

22" x 30" monoprint, 2015, printed by the artist at Hudson Press, Roxbury, NY
Reading Beckett, 22″ x 30″ monoprint, 2015, printed by the artist at Hudson Press, Roxbury, NY

SD: During your formative period were you working with other artists to develop your skills? Or perhaps you had someone in mind you wanted to emulate?

LF: Artists have this kind of creative bent. And I’ve always been curious, and always had a ton of energy. When I was in Provincetown I studied with Philip Malicoat. He was good friends with Edwin Dickinson, a very good painter, who is in a lot of big collections. I spent a winter working with Malicoat in his studio. He taught me how to paint, and how to lay out the palette. That was in the 1970s.

SD: You spent the 1970s in Provincetown, in a bohemian artistic community. Talk about that period in your life and career.

LF: I believe the hayday of that artistic community was a bit earlier when Hans Hofmann was around, and everybody from New York City came up, Pollock, everybody. I lived in Provincetown for a decade. I worked in the theater there. I was also painting a lot, and selling: my friends were buying my work. I was also a street artist for a time: I was doing portraits for tourists. It was an amazing period.

SD: In the early 1980s you moved to New York City. Let’s talk about your artistic trajectory in the Big Apple.

LF: It’s funny. I was visiting friends in New York City, and had my trunk full of collages I was bringing as gifts to my friends. I was stopped in front of a gallery, and the gallery owner saw the collages, and offered me a show. I thought if that was that easy to get a show in New York City, I’d stay. It was a great show, it got great reviews.

SD: That was in 1978 at Marie Pelliconi Gallery in New York City, a show called Souvenir Collages.

LF: Yes. I had twenty collages in that show. It got Holly Solomon interested in my work, which is a pretty big deal, but I wasn’t ready.

Garbage Truck/Snowstorm, 5" x 5", gouache, 1996, owned by Dympna Burkhart
Garbage Truck/Snowstorm, 5″ x 5″, gouache, 1996, owned by Dympna Burkhart
Fifth Avenue, 7" x 15", gouache, 1995
Fifth Avenue, 7″ x 15″, gouache, 1995

SD: What happened next?

LF: I guess there is a big gap in my resume. From 1979 to mid 1980s I was just trying to survive and bring up my daughter. I got a job as a graphic designer that was paying a decent salary. I would paint at night after my daughter went to bed. At one point I did a whole series on cockroaches, because we had so many of them. I was also doing some landscape, some subway stuff. I was doing all work on paper. I didn’t start painting in oil until the late 1980s. Back then I was doing gouaches or collages, all kinds of images.

SD: And in the late 1980s you started to paint in oil.

LF: Yes. What happened was that I was trying to decide what I was going to do, and I walked out of my apartment on Sullivan Street, and I said that’s it: I’m going to paint what I see. I did thirty gouaches – small 10 x 10 gouaches. I had an open studio party, and I sold every single one of my paintings. I knew I was into something, and I had so much fun doing it. I was painting things I didn’t know I could paint: police horses, cabs, people – people started to appear in my paintings. My career just started to take off, right after that.

SD: Taking off, like showing in galleries?

LF: Yes. I started working in oil paint, and showing urban landscapes in galleries. And people started buying them. I began to do one new show every year. I was producing a ton of work at this point, and had some big names interested in me like Allan Stone.

Couple With Child, 7th Avenue South, 20" x 20" oil on wood panel, 2003, retail: $3500
Couple With Child, 7th Avenue South, 20″ x 20″, oil on wood panel, 2003
oil on wood panel, 20" x 20", 2012, Retail: $3800
Three Guys, Downtown Philly, 20″ x 20″, oil on wood panel,  2012

SD: Nowadays you also make monoprints. What is the process?

LF: I work on plexiplates, and apply ink, and then use rags to create a pattern; I press on paper, then pull out the print, and clean the plexiplate for future use. I learned to do this at Parsons: I took a class there in 1991. It’s an amazing medium, it’s called the painterly print.

SD: Talk about these two monoprints you have here.

LF: I made these in the early 1990s. I come from a small town in Maine called Eastport. They have an art institute there – Tides Institute. In 2013 they offered me a show – these monoprints were shown there in an exhibit called Coming Home.

SD: How do you choose what to work on? How do you decide what comes next?

LF: I can’t explain that. It’s a visceral thing. I could be walking around, and doing grocery shopping or some other mundane stuff like that. And I see something, and I say “I want to paint that.” I don’t even verbalize it. It’s more like “I could paint that, I want to paint that.” Now I always have my iPhone with me. And what’s happening these days is that I see something about the light on a figure, and this is what interests me. And it is just coming naturally to me these days: I know where to put the paint, and how to capture the light. I’m moving away from buildings and streetscapes.

SD: What role do colors play in your approach?

LF: It’s a good question. But honestly it’s not about the colors. It’s more about the light and the shadow: that’s what gets me. For instance, last year I was in Barcelona and painted this woman on the street: I wanted to get her in the dark, in the shadow of those buildings, and moving towards the corner of the street where the light was blasting. It was the light – I knew I wanted to paint the light, not the color. Generally I paint with pretty muted colors.

Woman Walking, Barcelona. 22" x 30" monoprint, 2015, printed by the artist at Hudson Press, Roxbury, NY
Woman Walking, Barcelona, 22″ x 30″ monoprint, 2015, printed by the artist at Hudson Press, Roxbury, NY

SD: Talk about your style. You describe yourself as a realist painter. Some have called you an expressionist realist. 

LF: It is realism – old-fashioned realism, but somehow unique. What I notice every time I’m in a group show is that my work never looks like anybody else’s.

SD: What kinds of works are usually exhibited along with yours?

LF: I enter various competitions like this show at the Bonner David Galleries in Scottsdale, Arizona called What’s Your Favorite City? Or various shows upstate New York like for instance Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region at the Hyde Collection Museum in Glens Falls, or the 63rd Exhibition of the Central New York Artists at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica. My work just never looks like anybody else’s work.

SD: Would you name any artist as being influential to your work?

LF: I have painters that I really admire. When I started painting the City I compared myself to John Sloan and George Bellows and all those guys known as The Eight. I was painting the streets of Manhattan, just like they were doing a hundred years earlier. So I thought I was carrying on that tradition. But I think my work has evolved beyond that.

SD: You’ve been represented by the same dealer for quite some time now.

LF: Yes. I’m lucky. My dealer has stayed with me for 15 years while transitioning from urban landscape to figural painting. Her name is Marla Rice. She owns Rice- Polack Gallery in Provincetown, where I sell a lot of work.

SD: How does your work make you feel?

LF: I know that when I work for about a year or so to produce new works for a show, and then they’re gone and the walls are empty, I don’t like it and feel compelled to fill up those walls again.

SD: What kind of feedback do you get from your followers?

LF: What I do is so instinctive, yet it seems to have an emotional connection with the public. I know that I’m emotionally repressed, but I think it comes out through my paintings. People tell me they get an emotional reaction to my paintings.

SD: Talk a bit about the artistic process.

LF: I’m mixing the colors to get it right, and that takes a long time, because I mix all the colors that I want to use, and then I start painting and I’m still in the real world, but then after about an hour I’m not in the real world anymore. I am somewhere else – I don’t even know what time it is. I’m just in this amazing mindset, I can’t even describe it.

SD: How has your style changed over the years?

LF: It’s hard for me to say. The medium is the same – a lot of work in gouache on paper, but the subject matter is different. And the brushstroke has gotten more confident, I guess.

SD: What are you working on now?

LF: I’m preparing a show for 2016 in Provincetown. I show there every other year. Over half of the new oils I showed last year sold.

SD: Do you have a favorite painting?

LF: Every once in a while a new painting will come out that is magical. I don’t know where it comes from. “Woman on A Train,” painted last year, was such a painting. Everyone who saw it was moved by it. It sold before the show opened: Marla told me she could have sold this painting twenty times.

Woman on a Train, 20" x 20" oil on wood panel, 2014
Woman on a Train, 20″ x 20″, oil on wood panel, 2014

SD: You’ve received many awards and recognitions such as the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Printmaking in 2007, the Chautauqua Center for the Visual Arts Award in 2003, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship in 2000, a Manhattan Arts International Award of Excellence in 2000, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 1999, and many others. What do these recognitions mean to you?

LF: Every time I win something I feel like I am on the right road. I feel like I have something special to give, and I just want to keep it pure, and give it. I also think all these early awards came to the right time to propel me to push myself to the next level.

SD: Your work is in many collections, including the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York Historical Society in New York City, Vermont Studio Center, but also corporate collections such as Thomson Reuters and Barclay Investments in New York City. That must be feeling really good.

LF: Yes. Some of these works were done on commission for corporate collections.

SD: You’ve been shown in many solo and group shows all over the country and internationally. What are some of your favorite moments?

LF: What I really like about being shown in galleries is that it pushes me to meet deadlines. I know I have to have a certain amount of work done by a certain date, and I’m enjoying the need to produce.

To learn more about Lisbeth Firmin, visit http://www.lisbethfirmin.com/.

All the photographs were contributed by the artist.

© 2015 Simona David