By Arthur Whitman
TRUMANSBURG – Located in the cavernous main hall of their historic Greek Revival structure, the Trumansburg Conservatory of Fine Arts is an awkward space for an art exhibit.
Nonetheless, under the leadership of Executive Director S.K. List, the TCFA has sustained a reputation for interesting, wide-ranging shows. Often these feature four artists, both veteran and “emerging.”
The TCFA’s 32nd annual fall show, “Eye of the Beholder: Four views of life in and around us,” opened earlier this month with a typically lively and well-attended evening reception. The opening also featured the memorable early jazz stylings of pianist Ed Klute, testifying to the TCFA’s role as a home for all the arts. “Eye” runs through Sunday, November 6, with afternoon and evening hours Thursday through Sunday.
The exhibit is typically eclectic, featuring area artists Carol Bloomgarden, Harry McCue, Margaret Reed and Daphne Solà.
Bloomgarden, a Trumansburg local, arrived at her current approach around 2003. Using ink or watercolor on paper and etched glass – often layered together – her work combines intricate, “micrographic” lettering with animals, landscapes, and abstract patterning.
For most of her pieces here, Bloomgarden incorporates the work of well-known poets. In Wordsworth’s ‘Lucy’ Poems, a white on black ribbon snakes its way around a child-like landscape showing a log cabin affront – fading into the distance – houses, trees, mountains, and sky. Her glass and watercolor Fletcher’s “The Blue Symphony” suggests a topographical map with islands and sea.
Despite being the youngest artist here, Margaret Reed of Ithaca is also the most distinctive. Using chalk pastel and charcoal, her works on paper combine a skillfully awkward, faux-primitive style, with a sardonic take on religious and mythological narrative.
A handful of large, mostly upright pastels are successful attempts to expand an illustration-like technique to the scale of gallery painting. In Fortitude (St. Germaine) is perhaps the most memorable of these. The blond-haired, rustically attired figure grasps the beak of a half-bird/half-dog creature. Behind him rises a steep mountain-side rich in color and texture and dotted with white horses.
Reed is also showing a few of her small charcoal drawings.
The exhibit’s two veteran artists are accomplished and ambitious. Still, I got the feeling that selection of their work here could have been more judicious, perhaps smaller and certainly more focused.
McCue is a resident of Lodi and a respected emeritus professor at Ithaca College, having begun the printmaking program there in 1973 and retiring in 2010. His work, resolutely realist, ranges between oil painting, drawing, and intaglio printmaking. Solà, of Jacksonville, is well-known as a gallerist as well as a silkscreen printmaker – her Solà Gallery in the DeWitt Mall closed last year after 34 years. Japanese prints, both traditional and modern, were a major focus at the gallery and their influence on her own art is striking.
Among McCue’s most memorable pieces here are three prints. Spangled Hamburg, in etching and aquatint, combines a mottled background with a realistically detailed but curiously off-balance rooster-shown in profile. Eagle Eye, in drypoint, is an intricately stippled portrait-like close-up, while Storm and Sycamore, is a moody, dramatic aquatint.
The selection of McCue’s pieces here – especially his oils – emphasizes his longstanding interest in the rural landscape of the Finger Lakes area. Oils like Geneva Cabbage Field #4 and Snow Squall at 4pm attest to his close attunement to the land and its constant shifts of light and weather. The latter has a lovely, pastel-like and facture.
Also striking is My Tōkaidō #37: Elm and Barn, Route 206, which comes from a large series of ballpoint pen drawings done in the eighties. Taking inspiration from a set of views by the 19th century Japanese woodcut artist Utagawa Hiroshige, McCue forgoes the bold abstraction of the ukiyo-e master for an unassuming but skillful naturalism.
In contrast, Solà’s pictures here of Cayuga Lake here are conspicuously Japanese-influenced in their broad, simplified areas of color and their unexpected perspectives. A pair of large prints, exhibited on easels – Howard’s Dock and House on the Hill – combine subtle colors with a push towards abstraction. The later incorporates collaged silver paper. Printed entirely over silver paper, the sweetly colored Flood II and Flood III are as much abstractions as landscapes – here the horizon seems to disappear.
She is also showing several prints of female dancers, both black-and-white line drawn ones and others rendered in blocky areas of bold color. Most memorable is her (Martha) Graham Dancer, which plays with the reversal and ambiguity of figure and ground. The dancer presents herself as an unprinted, paper-white form, silhouetted against a heavy, solid red background. She leans back, her long skirt filling most of the sheet with her raised arms and dangling hair squeezed into the upper right.
For more information about the show, visit tburgconservatory.org/2016/09/28/tcfa-fall-invitational-art-show or call (607) 387-5939 for more details.