Artists still take an abstract view of the world at Sweetwater exhibit
Abstraction has been a major language of artistic creation the world over for more than a century, reaching its height of popularity among artists and art collectors in the mid-20th century with the movement known as Abstract Expressionism. But where is evidence of abstract art being made today?
New abstract works by 16 artists from around the country, currently on display at Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley, answer that question in the “Compulsion” exhibit.
The works were chosen from more than 200 entries received from five states by Nicole Capozzi and Joshua Hogan, owners of Boxheart Gallery in Bloomfield, who write in their juror's statement: “We focused on artwork that emphasized an investigation of abstraction beyond experimentation.”
To that end, the pair chose works that were “strongly expressive in terms of visual relationships and extremely resolved in terms of artistic technique.”
Some works, such as the large, square oil painting “Spark” by Scott Hunter of Bethel Park, which graces the exhibit catalog's cover, are a nod to the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1950s. Others, such as the mixed media work “Remember the Field?” by Carolyn Wenning, have a more personal appeal.
Wenning's piece is a response to a question her brother asked her recently about a childhood memory they shared of a field behind their childhood house “where all the kids in the neighborhood daydreamed, philosophized, smoked, kissed, explored,” she says.
A collage comprised of ink and found paper adhered to wood, Wenning says, “'Remember the Field?' is part of a series of collaged drawings she recently created that address the bittersweet memories she has of a specific place.
“It is layered, like a memory, and also grounded in the present by the dark strip on the right hand side, which is literally a piece of my studio floor adhered to the panel.”
Another work with familial memories or recollections is the piece “Autumn of 1942 (The Arrival),” a tall piece resembling a skyscraper by Brenda Stumpf of Stanton Heights.
Stumpf says that when she was making it, “At the time I was making a lot of sculpture that was honoring different people in my life, past and present, and also thinking about lineage.”
This particular piece is about Stumpf's great-grandmother emigrating from Italy and landing in New York, which is why it resembles the kinds of buildings her grandmother would have seen for the very first time.
“The sculpture is assembled with found wooden objects, and the golden color that wraps the architectural form like a skin comes from the paper of steeped tea bags,” Stumpf says.
Priscilla Roggenkamp and Keith McMahon, both of Alliance, Ohio, created the sculpture “Romeo and Juliet,” one of several three-dimensional pieces on display. A maquette (small preliminary model) for a larger piece, it was sculpted in clay, cast in plaster and given a bronze-like patina by the pair.
Roggenkamp says that in this interpretation of the famous Shakespearean characters, “the abstraction of the figures call on the viewer to look at the forms and the relationships between them rather than realistic details such as facial expression.
“The two lovers, Romeo and Juliet, are connected to each other at a single point of contact,” she explains. “This point might be the place they are joined as soulmates. It may be a point from which they draw strength from each other. Or it may also be the last point of contact as they separate and depart from the love that was there for them.”
“Homage to O'Keeffe,” a colorful ceramic work by Angela Biederman of Greenfield, was made during the artist's first year of graduate school, studying ceramics at Kent State University in Ohio.
“I made a series of sculptures that were similar in form, but with various surface treatments, display methods and meanings,” Biederman says. “I was researching a lot of artists who work from or with the landscape, and (Georgia) O'Keeffe's abstract landscape paintings were part of that.”
The smallest works in the exhibit are by Alejandro Loureiro Lorenzo of Brooklyn, N.Y. Both are black, white and gray acrylic on canvas and measure 8 by 10 inches each.
“I usually work from schematic, ambivalent source material — from field notes, photographs I take, drawings I make and things I find,” Lorenzo says. “These materials are extensively edited, and the results allude to fundamental imagery that we unconsciously recognize.”
Photographer Tracy Wascom of Marquette, Mich., proves artistic inspiration can be found everywhere, even in the clothes dryer.
In regard to her piece “Remnant #3” she says, “It has pretty humble beginnings, to be honest. One day I was cleaning out the lint screen in my dryer and a wonderfully compelling field of texture, line and color presented itself — made from leftover fibers and hair. After that, I rather obsessively started collecting the weekly ‘remains' of my laundry to see what had emerged.”
Many more abstract interpretations are awaiting discovery in this vibrant and compelling exhibit, making it well worth seeking out before it closes on Feb. 25.
Kurt Shaw is the Tribune-Review art critic.