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/.

5 Pointz: An Introduction

I’ve been riding the 7 train since I was a little girl. I’ve sat, content, between grandparents; I’ve stood, I’ve swayed; I’ve looked out over a ripe, yet jagged borough and I’ve lost myself, as I am so prone. It wasn’t, however, until I was accepted to Queens College that I began, however tentatively, to understand the art of 5 Pointz.

Image (c) The Village Voice Blog: blogs.villagevoice.com.

Image (c) The Village Voice Blog: blogs.villagevoice.com.

5 Pointz is art in an urban place – it is an art of the everyday. Since 1994, artists of all stripes have worked in and on 5 Pointz, a sprawling outdoor art exhibition space. Over the years, it has become an artistic hub, an institution – a central, yet wonderfully strange component of Long Island City’s otherwise dour skyline. And indeed, out from a charred landscape it appears like a bruise, a defiant mark. Faces, mythical creatures, graffiti, poetry – all of this, and more, was always visible to me from my rocking vantage point. But I didn’t see it.

Or I saw it, but didn’t understand. To tell the truth, I did not consider myself an artist until about 2 years ago; I guess I am a late bloomer. And indeed, I did not lose myself in 5 Pointz until that day, last April, on which I looked, with new eyes, into that landscape.

I was a poet. I had been accepted. But for what, and why? What made me a poet? A painter? What made me an artist?

And 5 Pointz appeared. I stared; my eyes searched its eyes; I wanted to know the how more than the why.

People – artists, humans – had taken a blown-out shell of industry and made it into a temple. How? They had worked – they had climbed, hacked, painted, sprayed, dreamed.

And I realized that art is not a leisure activity – no, art must be seized. That was what I would do at Queens College – seize my art. I would work.

Art is not a leisure activity. Art has to be looked for, chased after; art is something we do together. Indeed, I have dedicated this blog to the work of art – the chasing, the looking, the seizing. I hope that you will join me as I explore art, thusly defined, at Queens College, in Queens, and beyond.

Yours,

Elena

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To learn more about 5 Pointz,visit the official website. And remember: 5 Pointz is just a 7-train ride away!