Source Material

Art is not a leisure activity. Art is something we do – something we struggle with, something we form out of the raw materials of our lives. Art, simply put, is a process.

Source Material is ostensibly an exhibition of still life works, but it is so much more – indeed, it is a celebration of that artistic process, of that struggle. Here, artists show us how they respond to their worlds; they show us how art emerges from everyday materials, from the building blocks of myriad lives.

Xico Greenwald’s “Source Material Dioramas” are fascinating insights into the artistic process; here, indeed, the artist brings us in to his own worlds, his own responses, his own ways of living and seeing. In the first “Diorama,” we encounter a bottle of Goya peppers, a couple of shells, and a worn brush; we see here a universe, a place of collision, an artistic process in and through which raw materials – source materials, perhaps – collide and are changed, thereby producing art, a reimagining of worlds.

The second “Diorama” is also a process. Here, indeed, we encounter sketches of plants and flowers juxtaposed with actual plants, and actual flowers. We see, then, how source materials interact with each other, and we see how the artist has drawn from his world the materials with which he will experiment, with which he will struggle. He responds to those source materials; he changes them, molds them; he pours his own mind into their winding leaves. Ultimately, he makes art of them, and they of him.

The “Dioramas” are, fascinatingly, stationed outside of the exhibit room; inside, we encounter paintings in various stages of completion. I am drawn, especially, to Despina Konstantinides’ “Thanking Z,” which is a whirl of color, texture, and process. The artist has poured her paint, her arms, and her body onto the canvas; raw materials collide, and art is formed, unformed, and challenged.

And just nearby, Kim Sloane’s “Pale Flower” is engaged in a different, yet related, process. This, I believe, is a breaking-down, a vivisection of source material, of natural properties. Sloane’s flower is distilled, is torn down to its constituent elements; the artist has shown us how she, with cutting eyes, sees and responds to the objects, the world with which she is confronted, and in which she creates.

Source Material is indeed beguiling – it is a rare and exciting look into the lives, the vision, and the processes of artists. As I leave, I feel my own eyes changing; I feel that I, too, am engaged in a process, a world-building exercise, an artistic endeavor.

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Source Material is located right in our Library, on the 6th floor, at the Queens College Art Center. Go check it out!

Biala: Vision and Memory

As I step in to Biala: Vision and Memory, I am greeted by fracture – a noise, a rustling, an oceanic groan. It recedes, it fades; it reappears, a foam-wave. And I realize, as I make my way upstairs, that I am listening to motion – to paint, to brushstrokes, to Biala herself, all arm and spine and deft hands, her brow furrowed, brow shining. This is what painting sounds like, feels like – and I, too, will paint for hours, the tip of my paintbrush darting like a bird, my muscles taut like ropes. Indeed, I am stepping into Biala’s studio – into my old studio, into any artist’s studio – here, at the Godwin-Ternbach museum.

Biala: Vision and Memory is ultimately a hybrid exhibition – a riveting mix of sound, painting, literature, and photography – and rightfully so, as Janice Biala’s decades-long career was as varied as it was successful. Born in 1903, in Poland, Biala rose to prominence as an abstract expressionist painter. She contributed immensely, and irrevocably, to modernism; her ground-breaking work encompassed a range of subjects, stylistic choices, moods, and media.

Upstairs, at the start of the exhibition, I first encounter “Bull and Toreadors in the Arena.” As I look onto that bull-fighting scene, I note how omniscient, how sumptuous my gaze is; with one glance, I take in an entire arena, a deluge of life and violence. How different, indeed, from “Blackbird” – here, I see only fragments, beams of light and lush feathers, an energetic and disparate mass, a harried flight.

Two different modes of seeing, of vision, and two types of memory – the all-encompassing versus the small, the full versus the shattered. Neither one victorious; neither one is greater than the other. Rather, they coexist – they breathe, together, in this space of wide angles and multiplicity.

When I go downstairs, I am immediately drawn to “Paris Façade” – a portrait, a study of half-closed windows, of curtains, of opacity. Here, my vision is occulted – I do not see what goes on in these cozy rooms. But I am nevertheless intrigued; I am captivated by that lack of vision, of knowing, that rich interior life which I will not, and cannot, grasp. I have encountered yet another kind of vision – a vision of the downcast gaze, of the hidden, of the intricate and loving silent.

And after that ecstatic interiority, that quietness, we experience a sudden and jarring shift in vision – in “The Flower Pots,” we encounter a woman, her face turned, glancing (we think) at that very same row of half-closed windows. Here, we gaze at a gazer; her eyes are unknown to us; her lips are a mystery; we do not know what she feels, what she thinks. She, too, is a rich interior, a calm sea. We find, then, two interlocking interiorities, two winding silences, two modes of not-seeing – this, indeed, is the brilliance of Biala.

The Flower Pots, Janice Biala. From www.janicebiala.com.

The Flower Pots, Janice Biala, 1985. From www.janicebiala.com.

I leave the Godwin-Ternbach with notes, coffee, and expanded vision. Undoubtedly, I will return this exhibit like I would a half-dried painting – with awe, with creativity, and with a desire to ask, to know and not know, to see and to remember.

For more information on Janice Biala, visit www.janicebiala.com.

For more information on the Godwin-Ternbach Museum, visit http://qcpages.qc.cuny.edu/godwin_ternbach/.