Tag Archives: Jason Campbell

SHYLAMAR “SHY” ANDREWS

By Jason Campbell

Going into my meeting with Shylamar “Shy” Andrews I had nothing to go on. No website full of his artwork to reference, no Facebook page to lend insight into his personality, and really not much of any idea of his style of work (provided by Cordell). In fact, the only reason Shy is a part of this issue at all is the chance encounter he had with Cordell at the Cornhill Arts Festival. All I knew was that Shy was an intriguing young man who made an impression.

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon - Artist Shylamar "Shy" Andrews

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon – Artist Shylamar “Shy” Andrews

I try not to script my interviews, but I like having an idea of what the artist is about and then let the artist steer the direction of the conversation. In that regard, I guess I was somewhat prepared to meet Shy.

Sitting in Spot Coffee, seventeen-year-old Shy shared his sketchbook with me. Since he’s still in high school, at the School of the Arts, this was the only body of work we had to go on. He has not yet been part of any exhibits or festivals. Shy’s artwork is a mixture of adult cartoons and Dali-esque surrealism inspired in part by comic books, anime and his own extremely vivid dreams. If you’re my age you may remember an early John Cusack movie “One Crazy Summer” in which his caricatures come to life, leaping off of the page. Shy’s drawings have a similar feel to them, but the tone of the pieces lean towards an experienced, more polished approach. Most of Shy’s drawings are done in ballpoint pen ink and explore themes of demons, violence, sex, and chaos, but also of peace, or more accurately, spirituality. The cartoonish styling recedes to display strong artistry and amazing creativity. As I kept retracing the lines of the drawings with my eyes, I would notice another element within the piece. His art keeps your eye moving and is unlike most anything else I’ve seen locally.

As we continued our conversation, Shy abruptly switched topics to music. He deftly handed me a cd that he made for me to take home. I was taken a bit by surprise for two reasons, first, I had no way of knowing he made music, and two, that he had prepared this cd for me. His gift made a real impression on me, and I think my reaction may have affected him as well. Although I’m not a huge hip hop listener, I do have an appreciation for it. After all, I did grow up during the explosion of Wu Tang, Dre, Snoop, Tribe, Pharcyde, etc. and basically everyone I knew was listening to one of these. Upon hearing this, Shy grinned and told me “I think you have soul, I think you’re gonna like my cd.” My curiosity grew by the second.

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon - Shylamar Andrews

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon – Shylamar Andrews

Shy spoke of his desire to be multi-dimensional – drawing, rapping, and making movies. Each medium provides a different outlook into who he is as an artist, but also serve as outlets for his various creative ideas. I asked Shy what art meant to him, if he could compact all his energies into a single idea, and to my surprise, he did (kind of)! Shy stated that art is its own energy that can change environments by spreading different views. “Art has deep roots as it is the basis for all other fields. If you think about it, everything is a form of art, every object was created by someone; it doesn’t matter what it is or when it was made. Art has the spiritual energy to enlighten, to heal the mind so that the body may heal.” Shy likened the power of art to that of a shaman – the ability to access spirits to do good or evil. When I asked Shy what he wanted people to take away from his spot in Art House Press, he told me “That’s up to you – I want you to do your thing, to use your artistic sense to portray your impression of me.” He wanted me to take the wheel and he was truly willing to leave it all up to me. I’d say that’s a pretty ballsy approach for such a young dude, but that’s part of the enigma of Shy, who appears to be an old soul in a young man’s body.

Shy started to fidget a bit and said, “Let’s walk.” Um, ok, another abrupt switch. We started on a walk to Manhattan Square Park. Here I felt like I learned the most about Shy. He seemed a little constrained or uncomfortable in the coffee house and seemed totally at ease as we walked in the perfect summer evening.

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon - Shylamar Andrews

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon – Shylamar Andrews

He told me a bit more about some of his life experiences: like getting hit by cars (yes, plural, as in more than once) and living in the various parts of the city. Shy said he’s from all over the place – that he’s lived in just about any section of Rochester you can think of. I wondered how that could be for a seventeen-year-old, but I figured that would be too personal for him to share. Shy related his story of being chased through a neighborhood by a group of dudes as he walked a girl home. “Into the hood again, dodgin’ hooligans…” He mentioned that eerie feeling you get when you walk into an area that you know is bad just by the way it makes you feel.

We talked about injuries and how people react to them, both mentally and physically. Much of this talk revolved around staying positive and not letting the demons win. Shy’s perspective comes down to spirituality, and advancing in the face of negativity. “I circ’ round the block just to humble the conscience, exhale the bullshit to rid the air of nonsense…” The theme of “earth, wind, and fire” was a recurring one. Shy had mentioned it a couple of times over coffee, and then again while we walked to the park. I think for Shy “earth, wind, and fire” represents the strength of the spirit to overcome the elements of life. To be one with nature and not try to stand in the way of its progress, even when that progress is at your expense. Stay positive. I can’t think of a more important lesson for any age – life happens, and sometimes that hurts. It’s how we react and learn that dictates the future outcome, not the fact that we got knocked down.

To be at Manhattan Square Park near dusk with only a handful of people dispersed throughout, the park felt simultaneously peaceful and admittedly a touch foreboding, but Shy seemed as happy as could be.

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon - Shylamar Andrews

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon – Shylamar Andrews

As we sat on a bench our conversation changed course to kung fu. That may sound silly considering this is supposed to be about Shy and his art, but kung fu is a martial art. Going back to Shy’s spiritual outlook, kung fu actually makes a lot of sense. Martial arts are practiced to unite one’s mind, body, and spirit. It is through discipline and practice that one may elevate as high as desire and intention may lead, and also to learn patience. The main components of kung fu philosophy are breathing, relaxing, and focusing. In those terms, kung fu is very much an art form – ways to connect to your emotions and understand them, so as to live your passion. There are many excerpts attributed to kung fu such as “be like water, and like wind, and flame, and earth, and stone” , and “the internal reflects the external”  that recall Shy’s earth, wind, and fire references.

Dusk faded into the summer night’s signaling the end of our interview. I asked Shy if there was anyplace I could drive him – I felt weird leaving him at the park by himself. From his place of elevated consciousness he thought about the offer for a moment and then said plainly, “Thanks but I think I’ll just chill here for a bit.” I asked again just to be sure he really wanted me to leave him sitting on a bench in a nearly deserted city park, but he said, “Nah, I’m just gonna stay here and practice some kung fu.”

So, I took the short walk back to the car and started home. Listening to Shy’s cd I was really impressed with how skillful the arrangements are for a young person working on his own. I would liken Shy’s delivery to a combination of Guru’s narrative style (from the old Gang Starr records) and Q Tip’s  (from Tribe) positivity. “My kinetic charge moves nations, building many positive relations…

As I listened to Shy’s lyrics, I harkened back to our earlier discussions. Unbeknownst to me, Shy had managed to work most of his songs into our conversation in an easy, unforced manner. I simply started laughing to myself as I drove home, not knowing if I just got played, or if the consistency of Shy’s stories to his songs made them more believable. Though the stories and songs were relayed slightly differently, the main details were solidly aligned. The fact that this young man can express himself so effectively in two very different mediums, with little or no training is simply amazing. I think Shy’s potential is infinite. As long as he is able to focus his energies in a positive direction Shy can achieve anything. Many times we only hear negativity regarding our city’s young people – violence, drugs, drop-out rates, etc. The success stories seem to get passed over and as a result they become the exceptions. It was my pleasure to meet with Shy and share a bit of his story so that a positive light may be shed on a talented young man living in “Roc City – not known to give pity.” I can’t wait to go to an art opening featuring Shy’s artwork, buy his music or watch his movie so I can say, “I met that dude and we talked about kung fu.”

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon - Shylamar Andrews and his Artwork

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon – Shylamar Andrews and his Artwork

ERICA BELLO

BY JASON CAMPBELL

I’ve known Penfield native Erica Bello for a couple of years now, but in that time I had never seen her so animated and talkative as she was during our interview session. I think during the entire hour or so we met over coffee I asked three questions, maybe. It was like she had bottled up years of jewelry making conversation and let it all out at once! I was rather expecting this interview to be difficult because Erica is the first artist I’ve interviewed with whom I had any familiarity. To the contrary, the only difficulty I had during our chat was keeping up with the flow of information.

I asked Erica what her thoughts were on the negative connotation of “craft” and what the word means to her. She relayed her definition as “something hand-made, of a certain quality, using skills acquired through education and experience.” It’s “making a technique or medium their own”, and likened it to the “difference between a career vs a hobby.” Erica believes that the term “craft” doesn’t have to be negative, and the fact is that craft is a broad term that can be applied to any number of delineations. Erica does feel that the growth of arts and crafts websites have skewed craft towards the low value, poor-quality end of the spectrum. Even within its own parameters, young jewelers face a bit of an uphill climb. Many of the established studio jewelers started when materials were inexpensive, education was inexpensive, and competition was scarce. Today’s younger artists, if college educated, face mounds of debt from exorbitant tuition costs to go along with the highest recorded prices of precious metals and stones. Thus, when the older, established group sees the prices that the newbies are asking, they react negatively and tend to dismiss the work of the new generation.

Photography by Margarita Tsallagova - Erica Bello

Photography by Margarita Tsallagova – Erica Bello

So then how does a young jeweler earn that respect? One of the ways is to exhibit at large national fine craft shows. These shows are highly competitive to get into because they attract the best and the brightest. On the down side, they tend to be expensive for the exhibitors for these same reasons. Also, Erica told me how new artists have to establish their presence at these shows by attending for a few years consecutively before buyers trust enough to purchase. These jewelry pieces tend to be a bit more expensive and customers want to feel secure that the jeweler from whom they buy is going to be around for awhile just in case something happens to their purchase. After all, jewelry sold at these types of shows is meant to be worn, and it stands to reason that some breakage will occur. Despite some of these drawbacks of the larger shows, Erica feels that they are imperative for an up-and-coming artist to try to attend. Even if your work isn’t selling, you meet all of these other artists and see their work first hand. Jewelry is obviously a very tactile product – you need to feel its weight, and observe directly the quality of the soldering and the materials themselves. Erica said that when she first started getting into and attending these shows, besides actually selling product, the compliments from her peers were what really urged her to continue honing her craft.

Hone her craft she has! Erica is the 2014 winner of the Halstead Grant which began in 2006. Halstead is a huge jewelry supplier that started this award to propel the emerging careers of promising fine jewelry makers. One winner per year is awarded $5000 cash to use any way he or she chooses and $1000 worth of supplies. One of the things that separates the Halstead from other grants is that the winner does not have to repay their winnings. The application for the grant is a questionnaire consisting of ten questions which Erica responded to in approximately twenty pages. In essence, the questions and answers are a business plan. The idea is to determine who has a grasp of their market, process, and their product to the point that they can effectively formulate a strategy to be successful. Erica told me that she still refers to her answers if she feels that she’s spinning her wheels a bit. To have the appropriate solutions written down at her disposal is a huge asset in running a one- person studio business.

While at RIT, Erica learned all about traditional metalsmithing, fabricating, and casting to create her jewelry. This is also where she fell in love with silver as the main component of her work. Erica made the most of her time at RIT, where a professor told her “school is the only place where you can make any type of jewelry you want to make,” so she did. Often Erica would make twice as much work as required by the assignment and really explored how she wanted to make her pieces look. She had learned the basics in high school, where she became one of those art kids that is always hanging around the art rooms. She was a self described art “junkie” and continued on to MCC where she was only offered the usual drawing and painting classes. They did not have any of the 3-D art classes like sculpture, jewelry making, pottery, etc. Erica didn’t feel at home there and after completing the degree requirements decided to take a year off and find a job. She began working at Jared’s doing mostly clerical and quality control tasks. Although not what she had envisioned as a jeweler, Erica said that the experience with the business end of things really helped her in starting her own business. Quality control and pricing are absolutely two of the more important areas of running a successful business.

Erica’s work is designed to be worn. While this sounds obvious, there is a segment of the jewelry making world that strives to create work that resides in display cases – beautiful pieces in every regard, but absolutely unwearable. Part of Erica’s design plan is factoring how the piece will age – durability, patina, weight and comfort, and its overall functionality. She describes this as “kinetic jewelry” – as it is designed to move with the wearer. Another way to describe her work is “functional sculpture”, again, referring to the fact that her jewelry is going to be abused in normal day-to-day activity. Erica described her work as traditional jewelry silhouettes, referring to many of the pieces not containing stones. Essentially, that makes them hollow settings, or a metaphor for some people’s desires for enormous precious stones, and the image that that portrays. Erica creates her minimalist work mostly by taking two-dimensional components and soldering them together to create 3-D shapes. This is a painstaking process requiring an amazing attention to detail and lots and lots of time. This process is getting easier with the use of 3-D printers. These printers allow for intricate and delicate components to be made more accurately and quickly than can be accomplished by hand. Erica approximates that 30% of her work is done using these printers now, and any jeweler needs to have at least some working knowledge of them to move designs forward. The fine details of this advancement allows for the more traditional styles to be made again, which tend to feature really small complex components.

Although Erica has spent several years developing her own style of jewelry, she describes herself as being at the beginning stages of her evolution as a fine jeweler. This idea of “implied volume” by creating hollow structures is nearly limitless in its scope, so she feels she hasn’t come close to exhausting her possibilities. Currently in the process of moving to Baltimore, Erica is excited about her proximity to The Baltimore Jewelry Center. This is a state-of-the-art off-shoot of the Maryland Institute College of Art, or M.I.C.A., focusing on the art of making jewelry. Serving as a possible look into the future of arts and crafts education, M.I.C.A. dropped its jewelry making curriculum due to small class sizes and high costs to operate. Students aren’t lining up to attend craft programs at major institutions because they are cost prohibitive. The Baltimore Jewelry Center may be the wave of the future for prospective arts and craft students as it is a not-for-profit, community based education center with brand new high caliber facilities. Students can take one class or a series of classes taught by professionals in their fields of expertise and not bury themselves in student loans in the process. Although the thought of colleges and universities dropping art programs sounds awfully scary, it may actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise by promoting the regrowth of lesser know fine arts and crafts.

“Craft” or “Fine Craft” as its best self, blurs the line between art and craft. At its worst, it is a poorly constructed glob of whimsy selling on Etsy. However, as we all know, art is in the eye of the beholder, and even that glob is fantastic to someone. Jewelry making is one of the reasons that line is blurred because the level of designs, quality of the materials, skills of execution, and practicality of the pieces can vary so dramatically. Erica is doing her best to help jewelry making uphold its value by using precious metals to create functional, well-made, hand-crafted jewelry pieces. Though we will surely miss her locally, we should be very excited to see one of Rochester’s own take her work to another level. Also, if you happen to be in the area, here’s a list of national shows at which Erica will be exhibiting:

Website: www.ericabellojewelry.format.com

December 4-5 – Society for Contemporary Craft
Pittsburgh, PA (Jewelry EDITION)

February 19 – 21, 2016 – American Craft Council Show
Baltimore, MD

May 25- 29, 2016 – UWM Art History Gallery
Milwaukee, WI

Also be sure to check out Jewelryedition.com and Baltimorejewelrycenter.org

Melissa Huang

BY JASON CAMPBELL

Artists are sometimes regarded as being a little “off”. Spacey, flaky, and even “in their own world,” are descriptions one may hear associated with those who create art. It was quite refreshing to hear Chicago native Melissa Huang refer to herself as an “art nerd.” She graduated from RIT and loved the fact that the level of nerdity is palpable there. Melissa’s favorite aspect of her role as an assistant with Roslyn Goldman is the research involved in the appraisal of art, where she happily “geeks” out and learns what the appropriate value of a given piece is.

Photography by Margarita Tsallagova - Melissa Huang

Photography by Margarita Tsallagova – Melissa Huang

An artist’s journey is rarely (if ever) a straight path from point A to point B. It tends to be more of a round-a-bout route that allows for introspection, discovery, and personal growth. Melissa Huang is really no different in that regard. She knew she wanted to pursue painting from an early age and when the time came to select a college program she had to (kind of) trick her parents into studying art at RIT. Enrolled as an illustration student, Melissa quickly realized that the list of courses in the program held little to no appeal for her. Her natural instincts led her to painting, where she immediately felt at home. Not to say that the process of painting fit like the glass slipper in the Cinderella story, though. Melissa told me that her initial approach was pretty stiff and a bit methodical. She realized that she was covering every canvas in the same way: starting in the top left quadrant she would work her way around, clockwise, filling in each area in turn. Typically, painters will work in one of two ways – lightly filling in the background area and working towards the main subject, or doing the reverse. In my experience it is uncommon to see an artist work in a four-square approach. I would have guessed that that approach would be noticeable in the final product, and maybe by a lesser artist it would be. Definitely not in Melissa’s work – the amount of realistic detail and blending of colors are all the more impressive knowing what she was working through.

Photography by Margarita Tsallagova - Melissa Huang

Photography by Margarita Tsallagova – Melissa Huang

Melissa also stated that her earlier works had a subdued palette lacking the bold, vibrant hues that many of her classmates used. Restricting one’s paint palette is a learned practice, usually adopted to achieve a mood, or retrain the brain to see colors differently. Now, many artists will commonly gravitate towards certain colors as a safety net. Yet, the more complex colors do not come from a tube, they come from mixing and experimenting. Part of learning how to paint is learning what happens when you don’t like what you’ve put on the canvas. Some artists will remove the paint in that area and start again. Others will let it dry and paint over it, or re-work the colors while they’re still wet. Melissa didn’t do any of these. Once an area of canvas was painted it was done. She couldn’t go back to it. My personal favorite part of our talk was listening to her relate this bit of information. Most artists will work a piece to death before they can say it’s “done,”, in many cases well after the point of completion. For a young painter to apply paint and be unable to go back to it – to ever so slightly gently retrace the brush stroke, or darken the shadow, or brighten the highlight…could have been maddening.

Like any evolving artist, Melissa is working through her tendencies because she wants to improve her craft. She has started to work multiple canvases at once to force herself to work in a more layered approach. By applying paint of the same color to different pieces the ideas of start and end points are eliminated. I think working on more than one piece at a time is quite difficult and I know I’m most productive artistically when I have a chance to get lost in the process. By only working small areas of multiple pieces at a time I lose the rhythm by constantly starting and stopping. I applaud Melissa for identifying what she perceives as her weaknesses and attacking them in a deliberate and productive manner. These days, she is lamenting the onset of the cold weather, though – it extends the dry time for oil paints and limits the amount of work that can be done.

A source of frustration for Melissa is the relative lack of male subjects in figurative art. I think this is actually where our conversation started and naturally carried into a lesson on the ‘F’ word – feminism. There is a double standard regarding the male figure that has nearly rendered it non-existent. Obviously, there are museums full of paintings and sculptures of nude males from some of the world’s best known artists. In modern times, though, the presence of male nudity is almost taboo. Melissa was trying to remember if there was more than one or two male models in all of her studio classes. She knows there are so many interesting lines in the male physique that it’s silly to paint only the female form. And not that every figure painting has to be a nude, but she acknowledges displaying a painting of a male in any state of undress in a home is a commitment by that person.     

Much of Melissa Huang’s current work features porcelain dolls and crystals. Melissa is a long-time collector of trinkets in general, and crystals in particular. Interestingly, she does not collect them for their claimed spiritual powers, although she is interested in learning what those are. Melissa just thinks their structures and colors are intriguing and make for a compelling subject, especially in the manner she uses them: mostly in place of faces. The dolls take on an almost haunting appearance when in place of the lifeless eyes and expressionless mouths there is a clear cave-like void lined with crystals. Where a face would be isa myriad of repeating geometric shapes. An old friend of Melissa’s deemed the work “violent feminism.”You can see Melissa’s work on Instagram here: instagram.com/melissahuangart/ and on her website: www.MelissaHuang.com. These portraits of people and dolls are executed with an ultra realistic style that adds true dimension and depth to her subjects. Moreover, any of the intended and/or hidden meanings are secondary to the skill and vision with which Melissa paints.

"Self Portrait" by Melissa Huang, Oil on canvas, 40"x30", 2012

“Self Portrait” by Melissa Huang, Oil on canvas, 40″x30″, 2012

As a picture framer I am frequently asked, “How much do you think this worth?” I always give the same response that “I have no idea” because it is a learned skill set that takes years of training, of which I have none. Melissa has been gaining experience in the field of appraising with Roslyn Goldman and enjoys the research associated with the job. First, you have to catalog all of the essential information you can about the particular work: title, artist, size, substrate, condition, etc. From there you search through several different price databases depending on what the price will be used for. For example, is it for insurance purposes? For auction value? Is it part of settling an estate? There are different guidelines for each set of circumstances. Hearing Melissa talk about the process made me think of shows like CSI. The details of the job either make or break your enjoyment of the process and if you’re one to immerse yourself in data and process, art appraising may be for you!

Photography by Margarita Tsallagova - Melissa Huang

Photography by Margarita Tsallagova – Melissa Huang

Melissa and I met for a little over an hour and we touched on many different topics. We talked about how art has helped Melissa learn history – she is able to correlate important dates with the art movement of that time to form her own timeline. Melissa also told me of her not-so-successful attempt at meditation through yoga. Painting is a much more accessible path to zen where each piece becomes a self-portrait in a narrative sense. Melissa also gave me a crash course in how appraisals are determined and how much she enjoys that process.  I found Melissa Huang (pronounced like Wh-ong) to be quite engaging and somewhat shy at the same time. She is almost the embodiment of yin and yang; opposite entities that, when combined, form a cohesive union. Melissa’s work depicts the same idea – dolls are usually thought to be soft and pretty; however, her version has a cavity for a face filled with hard linear crystal formations. Other dolls are shown as naked figures with pomegranate seeds spilling out from the abdomen. At first glance these images seem gory but fruit is associated with life and vitality – a direct contrast to how they are used in these portraits. Melissa’s talent is unmistakable and her style is her own. If she considers herself a nerd at heart, it does not show up in her work. If anyone was flaky or “out there” in this interview it was most assuredly not Melissa Huang!

Marisa Bruno

BY JASON CAMPBELL

I met with Marisa Bruno (pronounced like Mah-ree-sa) on an unseasonably warm fall afternoon. So warm, in fact, that I ordered iced coffee after literally racing to our appointment. Marisa is a recent graduate of SUNY Fredonia and is motivated by the challenge to succeed in the art world. The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity that has opened her eyes to all sorts of exciting possibilities, and proves that her hard work is paying off.

Photography by John Schlia - Marisa Bruno

Photography by John Schlia – Marisa Bruno

It seems as though all young people are force-fed the notion that you have to go to college. While many career paths do require a degree, others simply require training, practice, and less formal learning environments. Marisa always knew she would be an artist, and if she went to college it would be to study art. Judging by her status as an ascending painter it was an education well worth the expense. Bolstered by professors Rey and Bonilla, Marisa was provided a solid foundation of not only sound technique, but also of basic business principles. It was common practice for Marisa and her classmates to work on their artwork until all hours of the night and to also have to prepare business card designs, cover letters, resumes, price lists, etc. Artists have to know how to apply their varied skill sets to: get into shows, to get jobs, to get into graduate programs, and to make money. I was so happy to hear that so much emphasis was placed on real world situations. I would think that students in all disciplines should be required to participate in similar exercises to hone basic writing and person-to-person skills.

Marisa’s interpersonal skills were further refined as a teacher’s assistant in Fredonia. She was afforded the opportunity to talk to a visiting group of high school students and implored them to follow their hearts. ‘If art is your calling then simply do it. Don’t let family or friends talk you out of it. Keep working toward what you want be as an artist.’ When Marisa was a young teen her confidence level was somewhere in the range of the Marianas Trench. That may be a bit exaggerated, but the point stands. Yet, to see Marisa’s work and to talk with her now, I would not have guessed that she had to learn confidence. Many teenagers are awkward in their own right, but highly skilled and very young artists can definitely lean towards the pretentious. Marisa impresses me as a bright, earnest, and sensitive young woman who may not realize how talented she really is.

Marisa’s sensitivity is on full display in her series of paintings titled “splintered”. Life is based on relationships – some are chosen by us (friends) and some are chosen for us (family). How these relationships unfold affect us in many different ways, both positively and negatively. Either way, our actions affect those around us and vice versa. This series of work is centered on the appearances of stress. What does stress look like? At times, stress can disguise itself as someone perfectly in control of everything. Externally, this person may appear to be running like a clock, while she is fraying at the seams on the inside. This is the main gist of “splintered”. Each person is depicted twice: once as a straightforward portrait and then as someone no longer able to maintain the facade of control. The difference in the two studies is striking. At first glance they don’t even seem to be the same person – they reminded me of the old anti drug PSA “this is your brain…this is your brain on drugs”. Her series can also be viewed as how you think you appear contrasted with how others perceive you.

Lately, Marisa has been working on large abstract pieces to learn how to expand her capabilities with paint. It is a whole new ballgame trying to make a complete composition without a real starting point. While working on figures and portraits Marisa has a real sense of what she wants the finished work to be. Every piece evolves through the creative process, but there is still a mental image as the goal. In her abstract works, Marisa likes to simply apply paint. She may use a palette knife or the edge of a board to add or remove paint, a la Gerhard Richter.These pieces are about texture, space, and color, and they eliminate any type of representation of a person or place. Marisa loves the buttery texture of oil paint and is enjoying trying new ways to experiment with it. What she does not enjoy is the toxicity of the materials, not only the paints themselves, but also the additives (oils and thinners) and the finishing varnishes. All of these contain potentially harmful toxins that require proper ventilation and common safety measures.

Marisa credits Amy Vena with introducing her into the local art scene. I believe Amy helped her get into the Sonnenberg Art Show this past summer, where she was able to meet all sorts of artists and craftspeople. Marisa described the Rochester scene as “bigger than she expected it to be” and full of “destinations” such as Hungerford, Artisan Works, Roco, etc. Her advice on getting acquainted with local artists is as simple as saying hello. This goes back to gaining her confidence as well since her younger self wouldn’t have dared to introduce herself as a fellow artist. Marisa feels that art is about connections, not only to other creators but to buyers as well. Art should make you feel something, or remember something. Art should be an experience based on those connections to one’s own life. That experience may differ from what the artist intended and that’s okay, if not more successful. By talking to artists, viewers, and buyers, artists can find out how people really react to their work and that of others. Art is a dialogue that can take many different forms and elicits an entire range of emotions and reactions.

"Lower Incisor" by Marisa Bruno, 2x4 feet, Oils, 2014

“Lower Incisor” by Marisa Bruno, 2×4 feet, Oils, 2014

Art is not perfect. Many times an idea simply doesn’t work. Some days paint doesn’t fall where it should and doesn’t blend the way we want it to. “Trash happens” is how Marisa worded it. Some failures are not based on bad luck or bad technique – some are caused by doubt. When an artist lacks experience the great unknown can be crippling. The fear kills spontaneity and artists becomes hyper critical of their work. This rigid approach then becomes routine and the work suffers. Marisa embraces the challenge of experimenting and accepts the fact that not every attempt is “successful” – unless of course you learn from that trial and garner that knowledge. We spoke of Bob Ross and how we both loved his belief that “there are no mistakes in painting, just happy accidents”. That approach is so freeing in its deflection of stress. Art teachers like to use all sorts of negative ways to put Mr. Ross down and some of that criticism Marisa and I can agree with. Art can take on the air of elitism and Ross was the antithesis of all pretentiousness.

"Movie Night with Emma" by Marisa Bruno, Oil on masonite, 2014

“Movie Night with Emma” by Marisa Bruno, Oil on masonite, 2014

As for Marisa’s future it seems anything is possible. She comes from a family of small business people, including her mother who runs a specialty bakery in Penfield and one on the west side of the city. Marisa works there part-time where she gets a first-hand look at the work involved in running a business and the connections you get to make with the public. Marisa sees herself owning her own business someday but is unsure in what capacity. She is constantly inspired by other artists and their successes, and is excited to see what lies ahead. When you see her at the bakery or at her next art show, be sure to say hello.

PUSH

By Jason Campbell

The crowded RAPA Theatre at School of the Arts seems limited (as all rooms are) by simple physics. With the lights on you could see the stage area, the ceiling, the outer walls, and you could feel the floor beneath your feet. The din of an anticipatory crowd bounced off of each surface and enhanced the feeling of confinement. Not that I felt claustrophobic in any sense of the word; it was just that I was keenly aware of the limits of the space. Once the lights went off and PUSH Physical Theatre started their show, I was carried into an infinite space well beyond the scope of the room.

I had heard how impressive PUSH is before arriving at the show, but I’m not sure I fully bought in. The concept of theatre, comedy, acrobatics, and dance seemed a little over my head, but I was cautiously optimistic, especially after seeing the full house of fellow attendees. Two minutes into the performance I was so fully immersed in what the people on stage were doing I felt lucky to be there.

Photography by John Schlia - PUSH Physical Theatre

Photography by John Schlia – PUSH Physical Theatre

The ability to move people emotionally without the aid of any stage sets – props limited to a simple folding chair, a red rubber ball, and some iPads, – is truly brilliant.

Of course, the music and lighting added to the atmosphere, but the narratives were achieved through movement. No words were spoken by any of the performers on stage during their scenes. All interactions normally conveyed with speech were mimed. The title of the scene was projected on the back screen in simple typeface. Yes, one piece was a video of co-founder Darren Stevenson interacting with his son, in which he spoke directly into the camera. Darren also spoke on stage, monologue style, several times – but those instances were more like stand-up comedy routines and less like something out of a play. They were vital to the show, however, because they effectively grounded the audience before diving into the next scene. Each segment started with a clean slate and reinvented the stage as another world.

Video and monologues aside, there were four vignettes performed by PUSH: Red Ball, Jekyll & Hyde, Galileo, and The Chair. Red Ball was an interesting contrast between an old-time, (newsie era) people fascinated with an imaginary ball and the modern graphic arts displayed on each performer’s iPad. The simple imagery was in stark contrast with the complicated action sequences of the performers. It was highly entertaining and served as a perfect introduction to PUSH and the rest of the evening. The humorous video of Darren walking us through his “Dad Workout” served as a light-hearted break between scenes and was followed by his first monologue, in which Darren laid the groundwork for the conceptual perspective of Jekyll & Hyde. This adaptation by PUSH serves to question where good and evil begin and end.

Photography by John Schlia - PUSH Physical Theatre, Jekyll and Hyde

Photography by John Schlia – PUSH Physical Theatre, Jekyll and Hyde

This was by far the most theatric of the performances, with each performer adopting a role or character. Elegant and violent, it was an excellent teaser for the full performance, which I fully intend on experiencing.

In Galileo, physicality was the most prominent element. I had no idea that the discovery of a heliocentric universe could be brought to life by a tight sequence of graceful displays of strength. This was my favorite scene of the night. The coordination of bodies intertwining and spinning and evolving was mesmerizing. The fluidity of the movements were punctuated by the absolute stillness of each pair of performers holding positions that seemed to defy reason. The strength and balance required for those moments was beyond impressive. I am left at a loss as to how to describe them. As the other performers caught their breath, Darren addressed the audience for the final time. Here we learned of his religious upbringing and his journey to find out what God means to him. As Darren asked the audience who were the “believers,” or church goers, and who were the “unwashed masses,” or heathens, he was able to deftly assure both groups that they were right. The genuine nature of his approach and his comedic timing were expertly executed, especially considering the sensitivity of the topic. All of this led into The Chair which served as an anchor, or safe haven, as the featured character searches for a higher power. I’d say without question that this piece was the crowd favorite. It concluded and received a rousing standing ovation. The most impressive part for me was the ease with which Darren was able to appear to be lifted off the ground. Then, as his feet touched ground once, Darren sprints in place, though the audience views him pursuing the higher power. My wife said she felt like she was watching a movie during this scene, it was so believable.

PUSH Theatre was truly a moving experience for me. Not fully knowing what to expect, I was caught off guard by the entire show.

Photography by John Schlia - PUSH Physical Theatre

Photography by John Schlia – PUSH Physical Theatre

The concepts were easy enough to grasp, making the show relatable for nearly anyone. The best part, though, is that the performances leave room for interpretation, making my experience my own. For me, it was akin to reading a great book. The characters are laid out for the reader, but the picture is created uniquely by, and for, each reader. My Randall Flagg is most definitely different than yours (especially since you’re now wondering who the hell is Randall Flagg?) because I used my imagination to give him a face. You can give him your own face. PUSH theatre is very much like that: a physical outline filled with your experiences that together create your own version of their story. My story took me far beyond the walls of RAPA Theater that night thanks to the considerable efforts of PUSH Theatre.

IMAGE CITY

BY JASON CAMPBELL

Rochester is essentially the birthplace of modern photography. George Eastman, and his company Kodak, made photography accessible to the masses, and in so doing helped to put Rochester on the map. For many years Kodak led the world in technology relating to the photo industry and beyond, creating an enormous base of both professional and amateur photographers. All of that occurred waaaay before digital cameras revolutionized the picture taking and processing capabilities of the average person. With the large number of people formerly employed by Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch & Lomb still living in this area, it makes perfect sense that Rochester is chock full of photo takers. Many of these folks already know about Image City Photography Gallery in the Neighborhood of the Arts, on University Ave., but many do not. Image City was specifically created for photography and has been a thriving outlet for showing and selling work from (mostly) local artists for the last 10 years!

Photo Provided - Image City Photography Gallery

Photo Provided – Image City Photography Gallery

Any small business that has lasted ten years is deserving of a solid high-five and a hearty clap on the back. A small business catering to a niche market during the worst economic downturn of the last forty years deserves legitimate recognition, praise, and respect. If you have ever worked for a small business or known someone who has, you know the day in and day out grind that must be endured to keep the doors open and the customers happy. One of the reasons for Image City’s success is that they have a business model that actually works! Currently there are eleven partners and two artists in residence, splitting the duties of scheduling and installing thirteen exhibitions each year, staffing and maintaining the gallery, and overseeing the financial health of the gallery between them. The distribution of the workload greatly increases the efficiency of the gallery as the burden falls on many shoulders, not just those of one or two people. Also, the fees associated with showing your work make it possible to show on small or large scale budgets. You can rent space on display panels, front wall sections, a separate room off the main space called the East Gallery, or the main wall section, with different costs for each. Any work sold is subject to a commission of 30%. By renting spaces separately the artist can choose what they feel their pockets and their work can support, and the gallery is getting income from those spaces and not relying solely on selling. Consistent cash-flow is one of the biggest needs for any small business.

Photo Provided - Image City Photography Gallery

Photo Provided – Image City Photography Gallery

In general, photography is seen as the affordable art. A nice addition of photographic art can be had for anywhere from $200 and up, with the high end in the thousands. (Compared to other mediums such as oil painting, where originals typically start in the thousands, you can see why photos are considered affordable.) That being said, Image City has sold well over a quarter million dollars worth of art over these last ten years! By having a fairly wide range of price options for potential buyers the gallery has attracted everyone from the enthusiast or hobbyist to high end professional artists and collectors. For a number of showing photographers their first gallery experience is had at Image City, as over 700 people have shown their work there. Regardless of whether or not they sell anything, most everybody has a positive experience. The validation of family, friends, and complete strangers admiring your work is a thrill every artist should have. The opening nights of the gallery exhibits are always well attended even when they don’t fall on First Fridays. I’d say that Image City has the feel of the old salon gatherings of artists from yesteryear – there are always questions of how and where the images were captured, and conversations on technique and equipment. So many of the visitors are also photographers, keeping the exchange of information nearly constant, as is the opportunity for the gallery to meet new potential artists. With new shows debuting every four weeks the look of the gallery is always fresh and worth checking out.

Photo Provided - Saguaro Zebra by Phyllis Thompson

Photo Provided – Saguaro Zebra by Phyllis Thompson

So what does it take to get your work into Image City? Well, for starters there is a curatorial committee that reviews your portfolio. A photographer’s portfolio is basically their autobiography – telling their story through their best works. You always tend to shoot what you know and what you like, and that series of images tells who you are. Self editing your body of work is crucial to your success in the jury process as you are always judged by your weakest piece. When I met with Steven Levinson, president of Image City, he had a great line on how to tell the difference between a professional photographer and an amateur – simply look at their waste basket. A pro is very critical of their own work and will fill the basket with rejects that don’t meet the high standard they have set for themselves. An amateur wants to show everything and their basket is empty. There is no set standard. If your portfolio is deemed worthy of exhibit space the issue of finishing and pricing is addressed.

The gallery leaves the pricing up to the artist but will offer advice when needed. The members do like to keep the finish of the pieces to be fairly uniform, with white matting and simple dark frames the norm. The scope of substrates to print on is constantly expanding, and as such you will see stretched canvas, aluminum, acrylic, and other materials that don’t require the traditional mat + frame approach. Many photographers will assemble their frames themselves which is great for the budget, but they don’t always take the same care in finishing their work as they do creating their work! There are no points deducted for economical options but please remember to take care in assembling your work! The time you put in is as big a commitment as the money you spend to show your work.

Photo Provided - Steven Levinson, President, Image City Photography Galery

Photo Provided – Steven Levinson, President, Image City Photography Galery

Mr. Levinson and I talked at length about the type of works shown at the gallery over the years. Although the quality of artwork on display is ever increasing with the growth of the gallery, the work maintains a fairly traditional flavor. We’ve already hinted at the technology centric pool of residents, stemming from three formerly massive companies, creating a very educated population, one perfectly suited to admire the fine details of the art of photography. Image City is the place to see a myriad of outstanding landscapes highlighting both our local environment and those captured while far from home. You can usually count on seeing more abstract imagery featuring macro textures and colors of flora and fauna, distressed barn wood, chipped paint, and even stark black and whites as well. In every installation at Image City you’re bound to see a fairly wide range of styles and approaches that shy away from shock value and instead focus (get it?) on technique and composition to catch your eye. These types of photos have proven to be popular with the gallery’s clientele, and after all, a gallery is there to…sell art.

Photo Provided - Six Fences by Dan Neuberger

Photo Provided – Six Fences by Dan Neuberger

Independent of the style of photography on display, the process of taking photos is the same. Mr. Levinson and I also spent a fair amount of time on this topic. Even with the explosion of digital photography and the ability to capture and manipulate images, the basic principles of composition still apply. Repeat after me: composition happens in the camera. Again. All of the post processing in the world cannot make up for a poorly composed image. Post processing will always remain an integral element of photography, but it should merely enhance the image, not completely recreate it. Taking a photograph is quite different from taking a snapshot. A photo is a conscious decision to capture an image using the common elements of art to create a balanced and interesting image. It takes time, thought, and considerable effort to plan and execute a successful photograph. A snapshot is more of a reflex; a want to capture a moment or an event. All of this goes back to the self editing required to produce a worthy exhibit. The partners at Image City are all experienced and talented photographers in their own right and can easily discern what is a photograph worthy of display and what is an amateur snapshot. The gallery also offers educational classes and workshops for anyone to participate in – make sure to visit their website Image City Photography Gallery, Rochester, NY

Photo Provided - Image City Photography Gallery

Photo Provided – Image City Photography Gallery

Image City has served as a cornerstone of the photography community in our fine city and is continuing to evolve. I have personally attended many openings at Image City and I am always excited to see the large volume of attendees and the range of works on display. My personal favorite exhibit is the high school show “Through the Student Lens” which features works from over a dozen area high schools. The level of excitement in the students is contagious as they show off their work to their friends and families. That show alone lowers the median age of the normal gallery visitor and brings a completely different vibe to the space. The work itself is as much a reason for the palpable difference in atmosphere as any external factor in a room full of young people. I am amazed by the sophistication of the artwork that displays a level of maturity and experience that belies their age. The fresh outlook or viewpoint of a teenage photographer is a crucial element in the continued success of a photography gallery. Hopefully, as these young artists grow and mature, they continue to take photographs and show them for others to enjoy (and purchase).

“To create a satisfying exhibition and learning experience for photographers and the art loving community” is a nice concise description of the philosophy at Image City. They have endured through ten years of difficult economic realities to emerge as the go to resource of photography producers and consumers alike. To celebrate their tenth anniversary they are hosting a Gala Show that opens on Friday, October 9th. Over 40 photographers’ works will be on display including: the 11 current partners, 5 former partners, 2 artists in residence, and some 25 avid supporters of the gallery! There should be community leaders in attendance along with media coverage to commemorate the 10 years of Image City Gallery here in Rochester. Whether you’re a frequent visitor or looking to go for the first time, check them out and help them celebrate 10 years of showing and selling photographs!

ANDREA DURFEE

BY JASON CAMPBELL

“If my work evokes an emotional reaction (any emotional reaction) within the viewer, my hope is that they stop and pay attention to that emotion, sit with it, and look at what that means for them and why it is there. Art is an incredible vehicle for exploration and understanding, whether you are the creator or the viewer. Viewers are only passive participants if that is what they choose.” – Andrea Durfee

 

I think it is a common misperception that art is made for the viewer. Gasp! Oftentimes art is simply an exercise for the artist to work through an emotion, or an experience. Art then becomes the vehicle which carries the artist past the event and allows the viewer a portal into another’s world. Whether or not the viewer can relate to the work is thus rendered irrelevant – it wasn’t made for them in the first place! If the viewer happens to identify with a particular piece for whatever reason it is merely the icing on the cake. I think this concept is easier to identify if you swap painter for writer – whether poet, song writer, novelist, etc. The writer is simply working through a personal emotion and presenting it as a means to get over it. So why can’t a visual artist create for the same purpose? Local artist Andrea Durfee follows her own internal guidance and creates art that isn’t as much about what she’s feeling, but rather how she deals with what she’s feeling.

Photo Provided - Landscape No. 2

Photo Provided – Landscape No. 2

In very general terms life is all about the now and Andrea is very focused on the present. What has happened is already the past and nobody knows what the future may bring – so concentrate on the here and now. That’s not to say she brushes past yesterday, quite the opposite. Being present also has to include taking the time to process what has happened. Not necessarily trying to “solve” or “force” any particular emotions, just simply recognize what those emotions are and what they mean to her. But Andrea’s art is also influenced by external factors as well. Why does the paint flow so easily some days and other times you wish you had kept it in the tube because it’s just not happening. Is it the artist? The materials? The weather? The noise in the other room? Doesn’t really matter, that’s what studies are for anyway!

Photo Provided - Landscape No. 1

Photo Provided – Landscape No. 1

Andrea is an artist who prefers solitude when creating her art. I’d say quiet, but sometimes even the presence of another person is a distraction for her and serves as a glitch in the matrix. I found this revelation particularly interesting because it is the polar opposite of how I like to work. I like loud music to drown out the noise between my ears so I can get into the creative groove. I end up blocking all of the distractions out and getting lost in the process of creating. Most of the art Andrea makes these days utilizes watercolors and inks. I would’ve thought that the free flowing nature of her medium would be ideal for the loud studio setting, but that is clearly not the case. I love the fact that Andrea’s preferred work environment is contradictory to my own perceptions of what it would be and perfectly exemplifies the individuality of the artistic process.

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon - Andrea Durfee

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon – Andrea Durfee

Watercolors offer the artist a myriad of options as to how he/she wants to manipulate them. Some people choose to use thick applications on a dry substrate similar to an acrylic paint. Others prefer to use varying degrees of saturated paper for a looser, more transparent look. Andrea likes to work with really wet letter press paper and build with layers of applications. The heavy 100% cotton paper has a nice smooth surface that dries relatively quickly and allows her to rework the surface over and over. Andrea loves the movement of the watercolor paints on the saturated cotton surface and the chance that the pigment will find it’s own place to rest. She then will add ink to better define her imagery and add more layers of color on top of that. You can see her works on her site www.AndreaDurfee.com. I appreciate how her color and saturation clearly set the mood of each piece, and how the time of day of creation can also influence it.

An artist who holds an undergraduate degree in studio art/printmaking and a master’s degree in creative arts therapy would presumably always be creating art, right? Not necessarily. Andrea actually went several years not making art. In her own words her life was too cluttered and she felt unhealthy. She needed time to simplify her life and re-acquaint herself with her environment. Part of her drought was her internal “tantrum” of realizing she had to work, and admitting that she was not in a position to create full time. Rust is very real, and something that artists who don’t practice must shake off and work through in order to rediscover their voice. For Andrea, an off-the-grid trip to Belize was the start of her journey back to the world of art. Her mother brought along a new sketchbook for her to use on their trip together, hoping she would use it. Andrea described her first attempts as “unrecognizable”, but she worked anyway. Then, one night in the tent, something just clicked and she felt like she had been re-awakened.

Much of Andrea’s current works utilize the imagery of birds/feathers or landscapes incorporating figures. The birds seem to be a recurring theme for her, which she dubbed one of her archetypes. She is fascinated with the common idea that birds embody all that is free but in reality they adhere to ancient predictable orders. How a bird can symbolize freedom and be predestined to follow the group is a subject Andrea will be trying to exhaust for quite some time. Landscapes are fairly new to her repertoire and were a cause of apprehension. Andrea was a bit intimidated by starting landscapes but became hooked. The idea of Persephone, the majestic princess of the underworld, is related to spring, vegetation, and the harvest. For the lack of a better word, she is Andrea’s muse for placing feminine figures in many of her landscape paintings. Carl Jung might argue that this figure is a representation of Andrea’s shadow – her dark side; those aspects of oneself that exist, but which one does not acknowledge, or with which one does not identify. Did I mention Andrea has an art/psychology degree? I like how Andrea’s landscapes can appear to be foreboding and hopeful at the same time; it seems each time I check out her works I see them differently.

Photo Provided - Untitled 2009

Photo Provided – Untitled 2009

Although much of Andrea’s personal artwork involves painting, her background is in reduction block printing. This technique is used quite often at the Louelle Design Studio where she is co-owner. where she makes custom invitations and other paper goods. I asked Andrea if it was difficult to separate her commercial and personal processes. She said no, and in fact the two worlds play off of each other rather well and benefit each differently. Besides that, she loves the physical nature of printmaking. Carving the lino blocks is a whole-body experience that uses muscles you never realized you had until they’re sore the next day. The cuts and nicks on your hands serve as a badge of honor and a token of accomplishment. The repetitive nature of printmaking is zen-like for Andrea, where she can focus intently on the movement and lose herself in the process. Ring any bells?

Besides the complete silence aspect of Andrea’s process, the other really intriguing part is her disdain for using reference photos. She says that she can instantly tell the difference in her own work if a photo has been referenced. The photo is the embodiment of detachment from the present and she feels the work loses soul. She keeps a mirror nearby in case a certain body position needs to demonstrated for her work. Her background in dance allows for a rather familiar knowledge of how the body bends and stretches. This certainly reinforces Andrea’s narrative of her art as a very personal account of her experiences and emotions. She is not trying to tell the viewer what to feel or why, because her art is like her own diary of working through daily life. This is her response to my asking her what she hoped viewers would take from her work: “I expect every viewer to approach my art (and any art for that matter) with their own experiences, narrative, and cultural perspective. Due to the fact that my work is very much a working through of my own internal/external experience, I do not have intentions for others’ view of it. I know what I see in each piece, and even my perception of them is fluid as I grow and change. Just as when I visit my favorite works at the MAG, I experience them differently each time.”

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon - Andrea Durfee

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon – Andrea Durfee

MIX MASTER – BRIELL GIANCOLA

BY JASON CAMPBELL

Briell Giancola has the kind of youthful exuberance that is contagious when she talks about art. It is abundantly clear that art is the propellant that moves her through her day, and she has a bubbly demeanor that belies the depth of her work. Briell, having just graduated from Alfred University, is still learning to put her process and ideas into words. As she starts this new chapter of post-college life, talking about herself (and her art) will become more and more routine. I am happy to have had the opportunity to meet Briell at this point because there is something quite endearing about an unrehearsed account of a young artist’s view of her own works; past, present, and future. As is sometimes the case, talking about the future allows us to re-trace our steps to see how we’ve gotten to a particular point. Briell and I talked about where she wants to take her art going forward, which in turn allowed us to see what led her to that path.

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon - Briell Giancola

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon – Briell Giancola

Briell readily admitted that the traditional concept of viewing art hung in a gallery or museum can get boring: there is a definite separation between the art and the viewer, enhanced by a sterile environment. That disconnect between the artist’s experience that led to the creation of the work and the experience of the viewer seeing the work is where she loses interest. In her own words “this is art and this is not my experience.”  It is a one-way, dead-end street, the end of the conversation. In the simplest of terms Briell wants viewers to be a part of her work, to impart their own experience to derive their own meaning. She asks, “How do you ask for participation without asking?” Her answer: by using common symbols that are easily relatable, allowing the viewer to “enter”. Once “inside” there are subtle clues placed in plain sight to influence the meaning of the symbols. Think of it like a treasure map – follow the steps and dig for your prize. Briell realizes that “not everyone will get it” but “at the very least it is an approachable concept”. She wants her art to be a true conversation of trading ideas, not a painter simply telling you what to see.

Photo Provided - "Chunk by Briell Giancola

Photo Provided – “Chunk by Briell Giancola

“Different materials evoke different meanings and associations for both the art and the viewer, artistically and realistically – like a dream, recognizable but not real” is how Briell described her use of so many different materials for her work. She prefers to think of herself as being a “mix master” as opposed to a “jack of all trades (master of none).” When an idea hits her she is able to envision it in all different forms – dance, found objects, music, painting, etc. If the application of the bread crumb trail is technically very sound, viewers won’t necessarily realize how they were led to their conclusion. Briell has been profoundly moved by artists such as Ann Hamilton and Pierre Huyghe, both of whom use the viewers to influence the movement of the art. In Hamilton’s installation piece The Event of a Thread viewers are invited to use swings that are connected to immense white sheets while other viewers lie on their backs looking up at the swaying fabric. The piece is in a state of constant change set to the backdrop of music and different voices having independent conversations, (or not). No one is at the door telling people to swing in order to move the sheets; it is obvious that a swing is right there and it is made to swing on. Even if no one is swinging, the sheets are so massive that even in static motion they have their own presence. It is a brilliant piece of work. In Huyghe’s self titled exhibition he uses a dog named Human to show the ever changing state of a work. Human is free to come and go as she pleases. There is no beginning or end and Huyghe has no intention of presenting one or the other. His goal was to exhibit someone to something, in direct opposition to the accepted norm of presenting something to someone.

Photo Provided - "Study" by Briell Giancola

Photo Provided – “Study” by Briell Giancola

Briell estimates that she spent $12 in materials for her senior show, emphasizing the value of the idea over the material. There is no fear in making mistakes or mishandling objects of little monetary value – by concentrating on her technique she was able work freely without fear of wasting something. Each piece in her show was done entirely in white. She had found some old white curtains and a bunch of fine sheer fabric. So, naturally, she cut  it all up and sewed it all together and made some legitimate lingerie. You can see Briell’s sewing prowess on her website http://www.briellgiancola.com/current/ . Another piece in her senior exhibit was a full white bed sheet on which Briell sewed a line drawing. The drawing was a simple table setting – a chair at a table, holding a half-full glass. Some viewers will see the glass as half empty while others will see it as half full. By using the simple line drawing concept of a glass on a table, everyone is able to recognize the scenario from their own experience. The conversation starts with how the level in the glass is perceived – optimistically or pessimistically. (Pessimists will typically argue that they are merely being realistic not negative, so you may substitute ‘realistic’ in place of ‘pessimistic’ if you so choose.) Briell also made a Navajo loom and began weaving to physically represent the overlapping layers of time, again using white material. She envisioned a performance piece to start with but the idea naturally evolved into her weaving, her own movements repeated over and over. Each of these themes is approachable, even for non-artists, and can lend perspective to properly decipher the meanings of the other works.

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon - Artist Briell Giancola

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon – Artist Briell Giancola

The all-white theme was unintentionally very self-representative. Briell is Jewish and Israel, referred to as the “land of Milk and Honey” has long been a source of artistic interest for her. She finds that both milk and honey can symbolize many different themes. Obviously, milk is white, and it can represent; fertility, cleanliness, hope, warmth, positivity, and it is gender neutral. At the same time it can skew towards negative; cold, sanitary, unattached, and it is easily affected. Honey is: luminous, rich, hearty, sweet, golden, delicate, sticky, and sometimes hard to come by. Her fascination with the milk and honey themes is the path she sees her art taking going forward. The possibilities are nearly endless and the desire to explore them will occupy Briell for the foreseeable future.

Midway through her time at Alfred Briell lost her direction in art. She was having a real problem connecting with her own work and didn’t even remember making some of it. She was beyond frustrated and contemplated taking some time off to re-center herself. Instead Briell powered through and took a mixed materials class that wound up completely flipping her art world on its head. The class was all about experimenting with different materials and pushing the boundaries of the assignments. Briell was encouraged to break the rules and in turn make her own rules. She says “something in me changed. I didn’t care what people thought and I invested everything into experimentation and not judging my own work so harshly. I was actually getting feedback that I could use, and people were starting to acknowledge the way I thought and worked.” By creating studies, she was able to hone techniques and tighten up her presentations and free her mind to account for all of the senses to create atmospheres instead of static works. There is no interest in making “living room art.”

Photo Provided - "Table Talk" by Briell Giancola, gesso, oil paint

Photo Provided – “Table Talk” by Briell Giancola, gesso, oil paint

Creativity and art have always come naturally to Briell. From an early age her instincts were fostered by her parents and her grandparents. Even though her saba (Hebrew for grandfather) had passed before Briell was born, her safta (grandmother) shared many stories about how he had been an ice sculptor and a chef after being freed from a Nazi camp. Her safta was an art teacher but supplies were too expensive so she used fruit seeds to make necklaces and intricate designs on handbags. Briell’s concept or definition of art had already expanded beyond drawing and painting by the time she worked on sewing projects with her safta. The pull of art kept Briell from completing writing assignments, causing her to miss out on recess activities. No matter, she has always known she would be an artist – it just came too naturally. Whether she was in band practice, dance class, or art class, her mind and body were always in creative mode.

And why should that stop now that she’s out of school? Briell has a slew of ideas as to where art can take her professionally. She sees herself working on some sort of design team so that she can play to her strengths; she loves a challenge, she’s a people person, she loves to use art to influence others’ mind set. She can see herself working for a non-profit organization or an art therapy setting. Maybe she’ll go back and get a master’s degree. I like the fact that Briell is not limiting herself as an artist or a person. It is, again, refreshing to hear someone with such a positive perception of art. All too often art’s value is diminished by the belief that it is a selfish endeavor. The fact that art is its own force of change is sadly overlooked. Art can be its own conversation on social issues, in health situations, on personal liberties, on basically anything and everything. Briell is ideally suited to meet those issues head-on.

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Through the course of one conversation Briell was able to open my mind to the world of conceptual installment art. I’ve evidently held a fairly narrow view of those displays – maybe because I’ve seen some really bad ones in NYC, or maybe because I didn’t follow the clues to get their meaning. After our chat I went home and looked up Ann Hamilton’s “Thread” piece and instantly understood why Briell was so moved by it. Hamilton’s piece added much insight into our talk about her own pieces and how the meanings could be interpreted. Huyghe’s ideas on how to flip the roles of viewer and artist would’ve surely flown over my head had I stumbled upon it by myself. Briell Giancola is and will continue to be a great ambassador for art in the “real” world and I look forward to following her progress on her journey.

Check out Briell Giancola’s website HERE!

GLASS TIGER – MENG DU

BY JASON CAMPBELL

Typically speaking, the life of a college student is full of new experiences. All of the familiar faces, places, sights, smells, and sounds are exchanged for new ones. The comforts of sleeping in your own bed are unceremoniously replaced by a lumpy excuse for a futon mattress surrounded by cinder block walls. You’re thrust into a world of strange people doing strange things and forced to find a way to coexist.

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon – Artist Meng Du

This can be an overwhelming experience for anyone who’s never been away from home, even if it’s a short drive away. Now imagine you’re nearly 7,000 miles from home in a country you’ve only briefly visited, barely speaking the language. And to top it all off, you’re taking graduate level classes in a field you know nothing about. Chinese born artist Meng Du knows all of this first-hand and she has overcome all of these obstacles in a very short amount of time.

When Meng finished her undergrad studies back in China she had earned a degree in graphic design – she enjoyed the program but never felt like she really fit in with her classmates. She loved the design element but was never enamored with the computers and software necessary for the field like others were. Meng much preferred working with her hands to create something tangible. The college professor took the entire class to the U.S. for a 40 day whirlwind adventure that took the group from coast to coast and back again. This trip was Meng’s introduction to America in general, and to glass sculpture in particular.

Photo Provided - "Before the Dawn" detail by Meng Du

Photo Provided – “Before the Dawn” detail by Meng Du

A glass exhibit in a San Francisco gallery made an immediate and lasting impression on Meng and laid the ground  for her major upheaval.

Meng and her classmates saw San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, Boston, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles before returning to home to Beijing. She decided to look into graduate level glass programs in this country despite her limited English skills and no background in glass whatsoever! Meng researched the national rankings of glass programs (she informed me that this is a very Asian thing to do) and applied to several – RIT accepted her on scholarship. RIT made perfect sense to Meng for two reasons: it’s esteemed #2 national ranking, as we know was very critical, and the Tiger mascot – Meng was born in the year of the Tiger, so it was kismet!

Coming from a city the size of bustling Beijing to one the size of cozy Rochester was, needless to say, a major shock for Meng. Being isolated on the RIT campus made her bored and lonely, and this was months before winter settled in.

Photo Provided - "Imaginary Friends" by Meng Du, kiln formed glass, cherry wood

Photo Provided – “Imaginary Friends” by Meng Du, kiln formed glass, cherry wood

Despite decades of acclimation time, the mere thought of a frigid trek across a college campus is daunting enough for me to want to stay home. Imagine your first introduction to winter is on the sprawling campus of RIT, where student parking is seemingly on the other side of the world. Luckily for Meng, the faculty (especially Michael Rogers) was very welcoming. He told her that she was the first Chinese student in the glass program and his first student with zero background in glass to be admitted.  He allowed Meng to work at her own pace and didn’t push too hard as she was light years behind the rest of the class. Glass work has it’s own very specific language, with a vocabulary made nearly impossible with poor English skills. A large portion of the class work is normally done with a partner so students pair up and make failures and discoveries together. Meng struggled in this regard as well – again poor language skills and worse glass skills forced her to go at it alone. Meng is a self described perfectionist when defining her expectations for herself and puts too much pressure on herself to succeed. It was a frustrating year in the program nevertheless she stayed determined.

Meng did take a year off from her studies here at RIT but didn’t sit at home feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she enrolled in a special glass program in Hong Kong, taught by Sunny Wang. Her time was well spent in this program as she was able to learn each individual building block of the glass casting process. As Meng became more familiar with the steps involved she was learning to actually recreate the images from her mind.

PPhoto Provided - "Evanescing Scenery No.1" detail by Meng Du

Photo Provided – “Evanescing Scenery No.1” detail by Meng Du

There’s really no better way to recharge one’s emotional and physical batteries than achieving hard earned successes. Meng returned to Rochester and finished lots of work in the studio that summer. Normally a s-l-o-w and methodical worker who had previously struggled to complete two pieces per quarter, Meng enjoyed ripping through piece after piece.

Glass casting suits Meng well for several reasons, among them is because it is considered a slow process – each piece takes approximately two weeks, with large pieces taking several months. Seemingly very fragile, glass castings have an underlying strength to them. Having been slowly forged in a kiln (roughly1250 – 1500F*) and allowed to anneal (cool and harden) over several days, the glass particles form very strong bonds.

"Bali 1" by Meng du, kiln formed glass, mixed media, tea

“Bali 1” by Meng du, kiln formed glass, mixed media, tea

Much like her glass medium, at first glance Meng does not project an imposing image, but learning of journey, her inner strength is quite evident and remarkable.

Regardless of how much time is invested honing one’s craft, our best discoveries are sometimes happy accidents. Such is the case in Meng using tea to color her works. As tea is a major component of Chinese life, Meng enjoys a cup of tea while working in the studio.

Photo Provided - "Remembrance" detail by Meng du, kiln formed glass, tea

Photo Provided – “Remembrance” detail by Meng du, kiln formed glass, tea

One day her cup fell over and broke, unbeknownst to her, splashing tea onto some pate de verre works (pate de verre is a fragile, porous glass made by fusing glass powders in a low heat oven.) Its porosity is key here, for it allowed the tea to naturally absorb into the glass. Meng is drawn to the matte quality of the tea stains because of its “humble, reserved, soft warmth”. She can control the depth of the stain by how long the tea steeps and the hue of the stain by the variety of the tea itself. I’m told Chinese teas are superior and thus the only ones used in Meng’s work.

As Meng was working away in her studio here in the States she was constantly thinking of home and her work was influenced by those memories. She says she “loves being able to explore feelings and emotions through her glass work to present scenarios or tell stories.” For instance, Meng made her first circle of leaves to commemorate an experience in Hong Kong. There was a massive 100+ year old tree at the school that was felled by a passing storm. She and her fellow classmates were trying to figure out “how to bury it” as it was a symbol to be revered. Meng used one of the leaves to make a mold and made enough leaves to form a circle in honor of the fulfillment of the tree’s life cycle. The circle in Chinese culture is of great importance, especially in reference to the birth-life-death journey.

Photo Provided - "Through September to April No. 2" by Meng Du, kiln formed glass, tea

Photo Provided – “Through September to April No. 2” by Meng Du, kiln formed glass, tea

Meng’s second leaf circle was done using a maple leaf from RIT campus. Her time here has been so significant to her personal and artistic growth, Meng was moved to create a glass sculpture to signify its importance. You will also find sparrows in Meng’s collection of works, as the sparrow is the symbol of Beijing (think of the impressive stadium built for the olympics – modeled after the sparrow’s nest).

Moving forward, Meng is unsure of what her future holds. She has found a true calling working in glass and has truly enjoyed her time as a teaching assistant and sees herself pursuing a full-time teaching position.

Photo Provided - "Flowing Scenery" by Meng Du

Photo Provided – “Flowing Scenery” by Meng Du

The big question is where that will happen. Meng has an eye on the west coast (no snow!) and she would be at least several hours closer to home. Boston also holds appeal to her, much more so than NYC (too crowded, too expensive). Meng sees herself staying stateside for at least a few more years before returning home, where she’d love to continue working in glass. The problem with that is most glass work in China is done for functional purposes in mass production. The creative side of glass is virtually non-existent and she worries that failure is at least as likely as success. However, I’m told personal connections are vital to accomplishing nearly anything in China. Much like our saying of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, relationships with others allow for the impossible to be done. Meng has a friend in Shanghai whose family owns a large glass factory containing over 100 kilns of various sizes – some of which are large enough for 5-6 people to stand in! Meng has a vision of creating an entire classroom scene out of glass. Desks, chairs, chalkboards, people, everything, all in full scale. This would be virtually impossible without the use of her friends’ factory, but you never know, and I wouldn’t bet against Meng accomplishing it. It is hard to not be impressed with Meng and her ability to overcome the obstacles in her path to becoming a glass artist in a foreign country.

Check out Meng Du’s website HERE!

STILLNESS

BY JASON CAMPBELL

The obsession to stay current is exhausting. Nearly everything these days is disposable and the expected lifespan of any tech device is at an all-time low. Upgrade used to mean “enhance” – existing hardware could be fit with newer software to more closely compete with the new model. “Replace” is a more accurate meaning for upgrade today. In most cases it is simply more cost effective to toss the old and buy the new than it is to monkey around trying to massage more flexibility into last year’s model. Information is everywhere and we obviously need it all. We’re incessantly pummeled by untruths, half-truths, and ugly truths on TVs, phones, watches, and even eyewear… and it’s still not enough. We need more. More. Faster. More. Brighter. More. Smaller. No wait…Bigger. Yes. Bigger. More. More. More! Whew! I may need a smoke after getting carried away a bit. But seriously, life is hectic. It’s noisy. Even all of those wonderful tech gadgets need to recharge. As do we. We need quiet; we need art to take us out of the fast lane.

Art is the portal to the forgotten dimension of stillness. Whether your pleasure is creating art or appreciating art, it really does not matter. Art allows us to bathe in the moment and let time pass unnoticed. I don’t really care if you choose to stare at paintings in a gallery or museum, watch movies, listen to music, read books, dance, cook, or even garden. All of these activities allow quiet to resonate as our batteries recharge. We are allowed to visit new whens, wheres, and whys through art, as we lose ourselves in another world. Imagination and focus are the keys to everything. Focus on the words on the page and voila! you find yourself inhabiting the same world you’re reading about. It’s rather like magic. The world can continue to race by at its blistering pace, but it can’t hurt you in your bubble of peace and quiet.

Even non-traditional activities can possess artistic qualities based on the idea that sharp focus on the detail erases the ticking clock. There is beauty in refining a technique to create rhythm, losing sight of the large task at hand and breaking it down into smaller, less daunting pieces. That is how art is made: the process. Heard that before?

Think about it in a different way and apply it to your everyday life. If you file papers in an office, or twist caps on detergent bottles, the idea is the same. Focus on the series of movements required to complete the job and do each as well as possible, blocking out the scope of the quantity and concentrating on the quality. The monotony fades away and your body moves more efficiently without the mind cluttering the processWhen the body finds that rhythm the mind is free to roam, to daydream, to be somewhere else. I know from experience. I have shoveled, wheeled, and raked countless yards of dirt, stone, and mulch. I have mowed seemingly infinite stripes in grass. I have put paper and wire on thousands of picture frames. And, yes, I have worked in a liquid soap factory twisting bottle caps and stacking pallets. In each and every chore there are small steps that are taken to achieve a greater end, and my mind was free to go anywhere as my body did the work. That may sound as if I didn’t care how well the task was performed and just let my mind wander and dream as I carelessly tossed dirt here and there. I assure you that is the exact opposite from the truth. Focus on the movement and on the process needs to be present to allow the mind and body to work independently from each other. I cut each and every stripe of grass focusing solely on getting that line as straight as humanly possible. After a few passes it becomes an innate sense and I achieve inner quiet despite the roar of the mower engine. As crazy as it sounds, finding that zen within something as menial as cutting grass is an art. It is a portal into another world, any world you choose to visit.

You know what I love about art? It’s always there when I need an escape. I can get lost in the heavy brush strokes of Mr. Van Gogh or the absurdly brilliant abstraction of Mr. Picasso. I can open a novel and let the author lead me wherever she wants. I can pick up a pencil or a brush and explore color, texture, shape, and movement in any way I choose. Art doesn’t stop the passage of time; the clock keeps ticking and the earth continues its steady rotation around the sun. Not that you’ll notice though.

Life isn’t even possible without art, more so, when the definition of art is expanded to include everyday tasks. It is stillness that produces the motion and the silence that amplifies the sound. It is the same idea as not knowing love or pain without the other. Art allows us the opportunity to recognize how frenzied our lives have become by offering us the sanctuary of quiet. The imagination to create comes from allowing stillness to permeate our beings. I believe that without art we would easily fall prey to the flood of technology. The flow of information grows stronger by the day and our connections to other beings simultaneously erodes. Ignore the blinking message alert that resembles a lighthouse beacon. Its promise of safe harbour is quickly revealed as a ruse, as a siren’s hauntingly sweet song enticing us to succumb to the sea.

Art enriches everything and everyone that takes the time to be still for one second. With almost no effort whatsoever we can let life rush on by as we take the time to savor the little moments of peace.