Brian Rutenberg at Timothy Tew Gallery in Atlanta

Brian Rutenberg gave an artist’s talk on Saturday, April 25, after the prior night’s opening for his show at Timothy Tew Gallery in Atlanta.

Rutenberg’s large abstract paintings are pure beauty and luscious paint. The artist isn’t afraid of color and he favors using generous amounts of paint, slabbed onto the Belgian linen he uses, with his hand or palette knife. During his talk he reminisced about growing up in Myrtle Beach and the lowlands of South Carolina. “Humidity made me a painter”, he said. Attuned to color as a child, he would bury his head in azalea bushes, breathing in his southern heritage.

“Nightcrawler” below, 55″x 68″, 2015. Photo courtesy Tews Gallery.

BR 41_Nightcrawler_2015 _55x68_oil,linen_LR

BrianR At twelve, Rutenberg copied Manet’s sea battle paintings in an effort to learn spatial displacement. He spoke of building virtual rocks out of pillows to duplicate the way that Manet placed his objects in the paintings. Rutenberg’s tactile paintings depict place. While he may appear to be an abstractionist, he realizes the sky and earth as standard conventions for a landscape painter, and isn’t hesitant to admit to the same thing in his own work.

In the talk, Rutenberg stated that it’s important for a painter to define his/her “job”, and to craft a place in which to do that. The fact that “no one cares” is a liberating premise for any artist, mistakes are inevitable. Rutenberg cherishes the notion of failure and says that success, to him, is defined by curiosity and effort. “Every painting fails before it gets better… and it never looks the way it does in my mind….you have to screw up if you want to be a painter. Do everything you can within a series of limitations.” He also insists that too much technique or too much intellectualism, as well as too much “craziness”, doesn’t work. His affability betrays a dedicated workmanship in both the craft of painting and in the intensity of his ambition; Rutenberg has shown yearly since the late 1980s, after receiving his MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York.


His influences are surprising; he admitted that Thomas Gainsborough is one of his favorite painters, with Tiepolo another influence. The Canadian Group of Seven was more obvious to my mind, at least for his color palette, along with the Scottish Colorists. He didn’t mention Hans Hoffmann, who seems a natural influence based on Rutenberg’s juxtapositions and rectangles of vivid and bright color. I also find some Diebenkorn similarities in swatches of odd colors – like a pink flesh tone in a horizon that is framed by ochre on the left with smaller red and acid green rectangles on the opposite vertical side that ring almost of Klimt. This particular painting (below) was not featured in the show, but it’s worth noting for Rutenberg’s versatility of palette.


Fascinating as well, is his affection for the pianist Glenn Gould, whose quote can be found his website: “The purpose of art is the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.” Rutenberg’s works commissioned by the Glenn Gould Foundation are more circular in composition, and quite different from the more current vertically striated paintings. He does not elaborate on which of Gould’s interpretations he favors.

While Rutenberg doesn’t usually paint on site, he does make sketches that he rarely shows. And although he calls himself a landscape painter, I detect a symbolism in the pictorial haze that permeates the mid part of his canvases. He mentioned the quality of light that came through the Spanish moss hanging on the trees of that southern home. The softening serves as a contrast to the harsher edges of what may be a response to a more dense, urban landscape. Rutenberg has lived in New York City since he was 21, and has his studio there.

Some of his works are bright, pop in your face vivid. Others seem moodier, with dark undercurrents of tonal values. The current paintings in this show offer a complex palette; juxtapositions of muddied earth tones and rusted oranges with fantastic jewel like reds and violets, which segue into deep and mysterious dark teals.




















Painting5 Painting6 Painting7 Painting8








































Brian’s studio in New York City.


You can find more of Rutenberg’s work on his website and a 2011 review by critic Diane Thodos on the blog


Rutenberg offers videos about his process here. Timothy Tew’s gallery can be found in the Peachtree Hills neighborhood of Atlanta.

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Anne-Sophie Mutter at Emory’s Schwartz Center

The Mutter Virtuosi Tour 2014 – Anne Sophie Mutter with young students from her Foundation rocked Emory’s Schwartz Center last night, playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Mendelssohnn’s String Octet in E-flat Major, op. 20.

She began the performance with Sebastian Currier‘s “Ringtone Variations”, Roman Patkolo accompanying her on double bass. Mutter had commissioned the piece, which Currier dedicated to her. Resplendent in a sequined gold top, black clingy capris and a pair of impossibly high black patent stilettos, Mutter is the glam queen of classical music.

As one of the perks of being a volunteer usher, it was a special treat to see a beautiful harpsichord on stage being tuned before the audience arrived. Exquisitely played by Knut Johannessen, he has been touring with Mutter since 1999 and is founder and artistic leader of the Oslo Baroque Orchestra.

The audience rewarded Mutter and her young virtuosi with two standing ovations, they gave an absolutely electric performance.

Her Virtuosi tour can be found here.

Anne-Sophie Mutter playing Vivaldi.

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Rail Arts District Studio Cruise, Tudor Square and Dashboard Co-op

This Saturday, March 15, was the annual Rail Arts District Studio Cruise (RAD) in my neighborhood of Avondale Estates. Held mostly in artists’ studios on Franklin Street, an industrial warehouse space that Marghe and Bob Means of Little Tree Art Studios began renovating years ago, it attracts people from all over metro Atlanta.


This year, the cities of Avondale and Decatur got in on the act. Avondale’s mayor Ed Rieker bought the old Academy Theatre building on Center Street and has great plans for what he’s calling Tudor Square. His new community manager, Deborah Revzin, coordinated an artists’ market in the space that included Root City Market and local artisans and artists, of which I was one.




Simply Seoul was making kimchi, beef and pork buns all day long and sold out early.


Andover Trask makes handcrafted bags from American canvas and leather.


I didn’t get the name, but this man had beautiful knives and leather bound journals.


More canvas and leather bags, must be a trend.


Lovely ceramic work.





A decoupaged whale.



My friend Arthur (Theo) Matthews is making ceramic gnomes and creations. He also displayed some of his small acrylic paintings.


I set up a booth after we realized we couldn’t hang paintings on the walls. Met a lot of nice folks and some neighbors and old friends dropped by.

I didn’t get a chance to hop on the trolley to the Franklin Street studios, or head over to studios in Decatur. Next year.

One day after work at One Midtown Plaza, I took the elevator down to the Mezzanine to check out Dashboard Co-op’s exciting show, COSMS, 12 installations by twelve artists. I had to miss Martha Whittington’s talk, but at least got to meet her and lie on one of her cots and listen to dreams. Dreams, the stuff of an artist’s life.

Artists below, in order of images:
Martha Whittington, Elizabeth Riley, Paper Frank, Lindsey Wolkowicz, George Long, Chris Chambers, Dave Greber, Kevin Byrd, Jason Peters, Andre Keichian. I didn’t get a shot of Dustin Chamber’s wonderful video installation of friends and neighbors afflicted with Alzheimers and Zopi Kristjanson’s container of moss was not marked. Credit to David Batterman for some shots that I couldn’t get in the fading light.















There is a review by Jerry Cullum of the show on ArtsATL.

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Jim Byrne at Timothy Tew Gallery

Last weekend closed Jim Byrne’s show at Tew Galleries. Jim had found my blog and invited me to his opening. A group of his newest paintings was exhibited there from October 25 to November 25th, along with artist Isabelle Melchior. I was unable to make the opening, but saw the show and took some photos. Lighting is always an issue with photographing paintings in a gallery, there is some glare and color discrepancies in my shots. The best solution is to view the work on Jim’s site.

Byrne’s brushwork is luxurious and his palette both subtle and bold, revealing a sophisticated colorist. His people look more fully developed and ‘alive’, than if he’d relied solely on photographs, and like Balthus, he captures emotion and mood in the dynamics between the figures, the viewer and the landscape. The patterns that he weaves into objects and backgrounds recall Matisse and Vuillard. The guy can paint.

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San Francisco and Marin county

I lived in San Francisco during the dotcom boom years; ’97 through 2001. I visited for a job interview in 2002 but hadn’t been back in about 10 years. I flew out a couple of weeks ago for an orientation session with the educational non-profit I’ve been working for since March, whose headquarters are right around the corner from TechTV’s old corporate office on Townsend. The city has more high-rise lofts and new spiffy restaurants along the Embarcadero, along with housing rental rates that may now be higher than NYC’s.

For my first two days I stayed in an AirB&B flat on Brannan, a short walk from the company office. The private room and bath were spotless and great for a change from a pricey hotel. And considering that most of the hotels close to downtown were booked months in advance, there wasn’t much choice.

The newly designed DeYoung museum was in the last stretch of a Richard Diebenkorn retrospective; The Berkeley Years. Too bad they didn’t allow photographs. The show was magnificent and the museum’s grounds were dotted with sculptures. Visit the website to see various video clips of Diebenkorn talking about painting, his daughter on his life and art, and others. How often do you get to hear Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond on a museum site? Never. If you go, sit outside at the café for a warming cappuccino and small bites.

For all you foodies, friends treated me to dinner at the fabulous RN74, a new place on Mission, part of Michael Mina’s empire. Another friend and I ended up at Osha, across from the Embarcadero. We tried to land at Slanted Door, an excellent Vietnamese restaurant that had opened back in the day on Valencia. A group of us went back then for a special lunch that chef Charles (or his mom) created, he was a friend of one of our colleagues. Tourists and locals now pack the place.

In Los Alamitos, a new Thai place is the superb Coconut Rabbit, run by a friend of a WestEd colleague there. It rivaled Marnie Thai in the inner Sunset, my old neighborhood in San Francisco.

In Mill Valley, Greg and I lunched at Joe’s Taco Lounge, a local haunt that offers vegetarian tacos and extras.

Images below include the show, gardens where I used to spend hours sketching in Golden Gate Park, my retreat in Mill Valley and an early  morning trek out to Point Reyes and its lighthouse. First, a stop at the Bovine Bakery for provisions, coffee and pain d’amande. There’s a gray whale skull on display at the lighthouse visitor’s center that I’d forgotten about. After a fantastic lunch at the Farmhouse restaurant in Olema, down Rt 1 in my little Fiat that could, back through Stinson Beach and stops along the way at Muir Beach overlook.

I dropped into Claudia Chapline’s gallery at Stinson and finally had a chat with her after having been there a few other times since the late 1980s. I now own one of her small abstracts and her signed memoir, Falling Up the Stairs.


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Strawberry season

I have no excuse for not posting since February. I’ve had a painting block since early March that I don’t attribute to returning to a (wonderful) full-time job. Although it means that I could once again buy a $60 tube of Old Holland cadmium orange, my time in the studio has been limited.

Getting the gardens going in early spring meant a dump truck bringing in 5 cubic yards of mushroom compost. The hard part was hauling it out in the wheelbarrow to various beds. The soil here is high in mineral content, low in loam. Worms love my lazy sheet composting, but they don’t work fast enough. And now I’m deep in strawberry season, having to pick daily to keep up. On my second year for the 25 each of Honeoye and Ozark Beauty plants, it’s another bumper crop, planted in the fall of 2011. This happened before, when I lived in Chester County, PA. I had to buy a small freezer to hold all the berries from the then 5 year old plants.

Alfisols, the second best soils in the country, are found in that part of Pennsylvania, the bedroom suburbs of Philly. Second only to the Mollisols found in the midwest and in California’s central valley. Here in Georgia we have what are known as Ultisols or commonly, red clay. It’s typically acidic. Strawberries love acid soils, but they were easier to grow in the southeastern PA garden. I never had a problem with ants eating them there, or with mold. Next fall I’ll mulch with pine straw to keep them dry and clean. Lucky for me that the birds have bugs in their sights, not berries. Even the bluebirds nesting in the birdhouse overlooking the strawberry beds are oblivious.

Once I added spent mushroom substrate (compost) to my Atlanta gardens, the worms, collards, kale, spinach and strawberries, love it.

What to make with my bounty? I finally have a bundt pan, thanks to a colleague’s shared cake recipe. Inspiration.


I found a beautiful blog called Manger on food with artful photographs by the writer’s husband. From the Médoc region of France, it’s enough to just peruse the gorgeous layouts that look like Dutch still lifes.


This cake is a simple meringue with flowers and berries. And whipped cream.

I may just settle for strawberry scones, found on Confessions of a Tart. And I’ll make some time for a jam making session.



Garlic Soup  with a dollop of duck fat (what, they’re in France already) and a peony head from the Manger blog. I miss having peonies, so next fall will be planting time for the beauties from Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery.


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Sammy Peters

I discovered the painter Sammy Peters during an Alan Avery gallery opening this past fall and mentioned him in the post that I wrote about it. His work stood out as pure, structured, and fascinating abstraction in the midst of the surrealistic and figurative paintings being shown. We exchanged some notes during emails and he agreed to an interview, included below. I’m excited to have the opportunity to meet him, he’ll be exhibiting his work at the Alan Avery Art Company in early March.

While abstraction has never receded much from the art mainstream (and as Jerry Saltz has claimed, ‘all two-dimensional art is abstract’), very few critics or writers have been able to adequately describe either the process or the final result. Donald Kuspit’s excellent essay on Peters’ work is one of the best I’ve read.

Forgotten: intermediate; enigma
48 x 60 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas

What led you to become a painter?

SP  I grew up in an artistic household. My father was an artist and we had art materials handy. He had a sign business and that was his job and my sister and I would spend countless hours there watching him work, us playing with the tools of the trade. I would sweep floors and do general cleanup on weekends and after school. Most of my father’s fine art would be commissions that someone asked him to paint. I remember a great watercolor with a knight crouching behind a rock, ready to decapitate a 3-headed dragon – an illustration that he did for a bedtime story.

Can you describe how living in Little Rock, Arkansas influences (or doesn’t) your work?

SP  Most of it is unconscious. Arkansas is very humid and very green and to my eye it has a faint rose-colored tint that blankets everything. For example, when we visit Santa Fe or other destinations in the west that are high and dry, colors seem to be different, more saturated. I suppose that being away from the centers of the art world has its pluses and minuses. I seem to respond to the relative quiet and slower moving pace in Arkansas. I lived for almost a year in the San Francisco Bay area in the mid 1960’s, and found it difficult to paint there.

Primary: integrated; process
36 x 60 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas

Describe your daily painting/working routine and what inspires you to paint a particular piece. Do you make sketches or draw on a regular basis?

SP I like to arrive at my studio relatively early 5 or 6 days a week and paint until I get tired, usually between 3 and 5 pm. I’m not an artist who likes to wait for inspiration to paint, usually the act of painting is my inspiration to keep exploring. I go through cycles where I like to paint large or relatively large (5×6’ or larger) and at other times the cycle of paintings gets smaller and smaller, down to 15×20 inches or so. The specific imagery of each piece develops during the process of painting.

In all but a few cases, I have no idea about the evolution of the image or where it’s going until I’m finished. I find that color seems to also work in cycles. Sometimes my palette is more neutral, at others it’s much more saturated with color. I do make sketches and draw.

Determined: interlocking; identity, 2007
48 x 60 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas

I am interested in the fact that you don’t offer an artist’s statement on your site. The catalogs and writings about your work have probably saved you from that exercise. Could you offer a brief idea of what you’d write in your own statement if you were pressed?

SP  I’ve never written an art statement that I was happy with. My very first one is embarrassing for me to read now. Very cocky and mocking some 1960 era artist’s pretentious statements. Maybe part of the problem is that I don’t think in terms of verbal solutions and planning ideas for paintings. Each of my paintings seems to be a cosmos of its own and when I try and put into words what my painting is about, I draw blanks. I also might find myself trying to make what I do sound intelligent and it’s anything but that. It is, I suppose, just something that I have to do. If pressed, I wouldn’t be able to explain my breathing or heartbeat. It’s just there. And besides, I have read very few art statements by other artists that I find interesting.

Recently I read this unattributed question on the internet:  “If we can’t communicate persuasively what art means to us, how can we expect others to gain a clearer sense of why they should get more involved?”
I don’t think that it’s easy, but I do think clear writing is something that artists should aspire to. Good artist statements are few and far between.


Peters wrote the following in 2007 and suggests it was the last statement he has written. He says: “I don’t think it adequately describes what I do in those hours alone in the studio with my thoughts.”
Sometimes I see painting as a car or vehicle. The painter serves as the vehicle designer/mechanic. The purpose of the vehicle is to take the artist where she needs to go to find answers to her questions. Paintings by other artists as well as nature are signposts that suggest to  the artist/mechanic possible routes to take and which to avoid.  It seems to me the more illustrational the signposts, the more likely that they will always have the same information; that is, seen from the early viewing and not adding to the information later in the artist’s life.
The artist is seeking sources for answers regarding life structures. The car can take the artist to the sources. The better the artist builds the car, the better she drives the car and the more she regards the signposts in a highly perceptive state, the closer she comes to the clarifications she’s seeking.

You’ve mentioned that Diebenkorn was a strong influence, but that deKooning is your favorite Abstract Expressionist. I see more of Diebenkorn’s formal compositional structure in your work, there seems to also be an effort at opening up a space in many of your works – kind of like the windows in Matisse or Bonnard’s works. Can you talk about the context of the paintings and any ideologies you may have as an artist? And are there current painters whose work excites you?

SP  The Diebenkorn/Matisse connection was one that I recognized very early on and I’m sure you are right about me finding a way to utilize compositional structure the way that Diebenkorn understood Matisse’s structural devices. For me, DeKooning was the pick of the litter of the New York School of action painters. Whether he’s an influence I’m not sure. Over the years I’ve liked a number of current painters, but none quite as inspirational as those that I discovered in my youth. I like Sean Scully and Anselm Kiefer along with some of Gerhard Richter’s and Sigmar Polke’s work. But I also don’t have a lot of time to look at other artists work. Yesterday, a friend sent me a list of current kitsch influenced painters to discuss and I hadn’t heard of or at least couldn’t associate an image to most of their names. When I was younger, I knew the work of most of the then current painters.

Acceptance: contrasted; conflicts, 2007
72 x 72 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas

Material: reality; transformation, 2007
40 x 30 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas

I also notice that yellow is a recurring color in your palette, it figures prominently in many of your recent works, mixed with white or orange. From 2001 to 2005 black seemed to be predominant in areas or as an accent. Any comments on your choice of palette or how it has changed over time? 

SP  I mentioned how my work seems to evolve in cycles. It has been that way since the beginning. Black is one of my favorite colors and lately I seem to use a lot of yellow, as you mentioned. Blue over the last few years keeps showing up, white is a regular in my palette. I use a lot of colors that are hard to describe; some might call it mud, I would say a greenish red, or a purplish yellow. Putty is a nice shade of gray.

Recognition: presence; concealed, 2005
84 x 168 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas

Engage: Form, Contradiction 1992
33.5 x 49.8 inches, mixed media on canvas and wood

Have you been able to make a living solely from your painting? I have read that you took over your father’s sign business beginning in your early years, and that obviated the need to make a living with your art, which must have been an exceptional freedom. You also refrained from moving to NYC, like so many artists. Another stroke of possible luck, in that it allowed you to concentrate on your voice alone and not be distracted.

SP  I’ve been making a living on my paintings for less than 10 years. I’ve maintained a studio most of the time since the early 1960’s. Occasionally, I shared a studio with another artist. I think it did give me a sense of freedom knowing that I could raise a family without worrying about sales of the paintings. I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about “what if?”. I do try to make forays from time to time to New York, but I usually don’t look at new painting when I’m there. I keep going back to the Met or to MOMA and see works that I’ve seen many times.

You approached galleries at a later age than most artists, with a business sense defined by your ‘day job’. What advice would you give to young or even older emerging artists who may not yet be represented by major galleries?

SP  Most of the younger artists seem to be savvier about the use of technology to help further their careers. I didn’t try to market my work until the early 1980’s and the era was entirely different from the way things are today. I’m sure I could learn more about web sites and blogging and it might be helpful in getting my work to a larger audience, but I can’t seem to find the time. I found it more difficult to try to market my paintings than anything I had ever done before. I guess because it is so personal. Today we can visit many galleries online in various cities and see their stable of artists. If a gallery specializes in prints and photographs and you are a painter, then you’d know not to present your work to that gallery. There are also online artist development sites that cater to artists who are trying to break into the market; some are pay sites but some offer free advice. Some galleries will give a certain protocol for their submissions, accepting them at certain times during their year. It’s a must to have a portfolio of your work and my best advice is to utilize the most professional format one can, for making a presentation of the work.

Question: articulated; experience
48 x 60 inches , Oil and mixed media on canvas, Courtesy Alan Avery Art Company

Nurturing: forgotten; presence
68 x 90 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas, Courtesy Alan Avery Art Company

I have heard young (especially male) artists say that they “just want to kick his/her butt”, a reference to aspiring to be better than either their artistic idols, or the current art stars. Usually this comment can be interpreted to mean creating something new – what hasn’t ever been done before. That’s quite a challenge for painting. Perhaps you could talk about the gallery scene in recent years. In one interview you suggest that someone who is continually “searching out the new as a constant” could be characterized as “…having a shallow or neurotic approach to life.”

SP  I could have phrased that more gently. There’s nothing wrong with “new”, it’s just that if novelty and innovation are the goals of the art world/ gallery/museum systems today and artists invest in that concept, it breeds shallowness and seems neurotic to me. It’s a tall order simply to be a serious artist and always has been. I remember a Brahms quote; “You will never know what it’s like to work with the tramp of Beethoven behind you.” I understand where the “butt kicking” impetus comes from and when I was younger, I’m sure I said similar things. Our lives and technology are moving faster and faster and I think it’s speeding up the “recognition to adoration to repulsion” quotient as it applies to art.

You’ve talked about losing your ‘rhythm’ when you were jumping back and forth between abstraction and figurative painting during your children’s formative years. And you’ve also mentioned that many painters evolve a stylistically serial result, whether that’s intentional or not. How do you approach painting now that you’ve developed a larger body of work?

SP  Diebenkorn and Guston come to mind as artists who bounced back and forth between abstraction and figurative. My loss of rhythm was mainly the result of a 7-year hiatus during the 1970’s. When I stopped, I had been doing figurative work for less than two years, during the previous ten years I had been painting abstractly. I just wasn’t sure where my time in the studio would be spent. I had to see where the brush took me.

Some artists suggest that the studio is too private for them, that they require a social forum for their work. Does networking with other artists and developing community have much bearing on your life as an artist and if so, how does it inform your work and process?

SP  I think it’s entirely personal. I have a need to be alone in the studio for long hours and can’t imagine my lifestyle any differently. I do have artist friends, and locally we meet for lunch about once a month. I try to answer emails and keep in touch with galleries and friends that I’ve made in communities where I show my work. But what I do is very removed from networking.

Synthesis: internal; completion, 2009
30 x 40 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas

I’m always curious about how painters are utilizing social networking. I know painters who have been successful marketing their work online, even while they’re represented by a gallery. You obviously have a website, but have you explored some of these or other alternative ways to either exhibit or sell your work?

SP  No, I’ve never tried to market online. I’m curious about it and I know there are artists who are well versed in marketing that way. I know that the brick and mortar galleries also use an online presence to help market the artists that they represent, and I imagine that trend will increase as time goes on. I’d love to have a crystal ball and see what place all this will have in the future.

Any immediate plans for exhibits and/or the next series of work?

SP  I have a show at  Atlanta’s Alan Avery Art Company in early spring, the opening is March 8th and I look forward to seeing the city again. I’m also looking forward to a show at LewAllen Galleries in Santa Fe in June.


You can view more of Sammy Peters’ work at his website.


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Seek Atlanta visits artist Elyse Defoor

Two weekends ago, Seek ATL held a studio visit with the Atlanta artist Elyse Defoor. Her studio is on the lower level, underneath a labyrinth of rooms in her Chamblee home. Elyse has been on the Atlanta art scene for some time, and has developed several bodies of work that deal with societal relationships and marriage. The artist admitted to having been married four times and suggested that those partnerships have played into her work.

Elyse showed us her recent work, along with beautiful photography (her own) and a video that artist Ande Cook had created, of Defoor’s installation this past fall at the Atlanta Arts Exchange. Titled ‘Relics of Marriage’, the work consisted of about thirty used wedding dresses – one unused – all hung from exterior scaffolding. The dresses withstood rain, wind and falls during the exhibit, to the pavement below. The analogy to the rigors of marriage is obvious, the beauty of the installation surprising.

Her own wedding dress, used in the piece, was draped across a chair in her living room, next to the piano. Defoor states on her site: “These public experiences are invitations to dialogue on the changing concept of marriage today.”

Upstairs, large manipulated photographs on mylar hung in the dining room. These are from Defoor’s 2010 exhibit “Via Dorso”, shown at the Wm Turner Gallery .

The artist’s newest pieces still depict a kind of figurative female form and dress, but it is more difficult to pinpoint her motivation. What appears to be black crumpled iridescent paper pinned with a single thumb tack to backdrops of black paper rolls, netting attached at the base of one roll, these two sculptural forms are reminiscent of Rauschenberg’s black paintings. Texture is difficult to see in a photograph, but is discernible in the light of her studio space.

Abstracted and mysterious, these two pieces could be seen as a response to the institution of marriage, especially in light of Defoor’s prior series. A more facile interpretation is that they reflect the inevitable crumbling of relationships. There was mention of decay as a descriptor, during the studio visit.

However, I would suggest that these are the artist’s attempt to go beyond the tradition of harping on male/female tension and the tedium that results. Defoor has said that she was interested in a spiritual connection during her Via Dorso series. In this new work, a more internalized emotionalism widens her role as an artist. In Rauschenberg’s early black series from the 1950’s, he experiments with the formal aspect of painting to reduce its qualities to pure experience.

Like Rauschenberg, Defoor’s new work may be intellectual experimentation with an idea that doesn’t necessarily dictate destruction or any other emotional extreme. If her paper had been white, that color and its symbolism could have just as easily played into the viewer’s reaction. His response to critics who found similar associations to his black paintings in an interview now transcribed in the Archive of American Art; “there had been a lot of critics who shared the idea with a lot of the public that they couldn’t see black as color or as pigment, but they immediately moved into associations and the associations were always of destroyed newspapers, of burned newspapers. And that began to bother me. Because I think that I’m never sure of what the impulse is psychologically. I don’t mess around with my subconscious. I mean I try to keep wide awake. And if I see in the superficial subconscious relationships that I’m familiar with, cliches of association, I change the picture. I always have a good reason for taking something out but I never have one for putting something in. And I don’t want to, because that means that the picture is being painted predigested.”

Defoors’ strength as an artist is that she continually changes the picture and expands her vision.


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Miami Basel

Haven’t missed snow shoveling since I’ve been back in Atlanta, but here are some shots to get into the Christmas spirit – from the Feb. 2010 Snowmegeddon in West Chester, PA.


Good to see all the painting at Miami Basel – from afar, that is. I’ve been vicariously visiting by viewing Joanne Mattera’s blog posts about the arts fair. She even posts about what to wear while you’re there. Following photos courtesy her site.

Smaller paintings are getting the nod at a lot of galleries lately, as well as at art fairs.  I’ll have four small works in a ‘Miniature Perspectives” exhibit coming up in January at the Ferst Center for the Arts, at GA Tech. The collage below is by Alfred Leslie, from the Allen Stone Gallery.

Aqua Art: Sara Bright at George Lawson Gallery, San Francisco/Los Angeles

Aqua Art: John Zinsser at George Lawson Gallery

NADA: Bret Slater at Elaine Levy Project, Brussels

Another great rundown on Miami Basel can be found at Sharon Butler’s Two Coats of Paint blog, with Tatiana Berg’s picks. Photos courtesy Two Coats of Paint.

Tal RFog Over Malia Bay, 2011, oil and dispersion on cardboard in artist frame. 47 1/2 x 36 1/2 inches, at Cheim & Read.

Ellen BerkenblitFlowers, 2012, oil on canvas, 90 x 76 inches, at Anton Kern Gallery


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Rocio Rodriguez – Divergent Fictions at The Columbus Museum of Art

Last Saturday I caught the final weekend for the Rocio Rodriguez exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, GA. I had never been to the space before and was pleasantly surprised. The painter had an exhibit at Sandler Hudson gallery in Atlanta earlier this year, but sadly I missed it. A 24 year retrospective in the third floor galleries, the show in Columbus included a selection of her works from 1988 to 2012.

The Command, 1988. Oil on canvas 84×91 inches. On loan from the High Museum of Art.

The Shield, 1991. Oil on canvas 84×80.5 inches.  Courtesy the artist.

Starting in the late 1980’s, the work during these decades spans several incarnations, including figurative, abstract and computer assisted work that relates to the Iraq war. The early works bring to mind Bay Area figurative artists like Manuel Neri and Nathan Oliveira.  Some of the grid making on paintings like “Time” echo those of Cy Twombly or Mark Tobey.

Time, 1995. Oil on canvas, 84×154 inches.  Courtesy the artist.

October 23, ’06, No.1. Pastel, oil pastel, pencil on paper.  Courtesy the artist.

Rodriguez seems to limit her palette to warm colors, with the exception of additions of pale blue in early works. One pastel from 2006 includes a deep ultramarine upper quadrant with what could be construed as stars in its half oval. Black, orange and red are predominant colors that she uses throughout.

Saffron Hands, 1994. Oil on canvas. On loan from David Joel.

In 1996 on a 3 month residency in Rome, Rodriguez began experimenting with decorative motifs, inspired by architecture and memories of her Cuban childhood. The museum brochure states that her work during this period rejected a “modernist attitude that was inclined to view beauty as a superficial concern.”

Roman Codex I, 1997. Oil on canvas, 77×84 inches. On loan from the New Orleans Museum of Art.

I especially like that Rodriguez is not shy about stating her stance in support of beauty, in opposition to what is an “acquired response in art circles.” She questions whether the beautiful can’t be provocative or engaging. She notes that she doesn’t “ascribe to absolutes, and my paintings don’t depend on theoretical positions but on the experiential.” 

In  1999 she returned to Italy and spent time working on pieces in which she deconstructed and rubbed out the subject matter.

Slit and Trace, 2002. Oil on canvas, 60×82 inches. On loan from David Joel.

From 2005 to 2009, Rodriguez developed a series based on photographs and maps of the Iraq war. Her palette concentrates on earth colors similar to those found in the desert; reds, ochres, dark browns, on what appeared to be raw canvas in some cases. The artist has said that the basis for using red in some of these works is the obvious symbolism for conflict, but her choices in color are normally intuitive and not contrived.

The Round City – Baghdad, 2007. Oil on canvas, 72×120 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Using her computer to upload her own drawings and photographs, she devised the basis for these large works. These do remind me of imagery generated by computers, especially beta versions of paint programs that I used in the 1990s when computer animation and automated rotoscoping tools were first being developed.

Rodriguez again shifted styles in the early 2000’s, returning to expressionist brushwork and reducing content. Some of these works combine media; pastel, pencil and oil or oil and acrylic.  In the latest paintings, she combines architectural elements with gesture and achieves emotional resonance through spare color combinations.

Orange Trace, 2012. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72×78.5 inches.  Courtesy the artist.

Totem, 2011. Oil on canvas, 69.5×92.75 inches.  Courtesy the artist.

A review in Art in America can be found here. You can also view Rodriguez’s works in the High Museum’s permanent collection. Rodriguez’s website offers a conversation between the artist and critic and curator Lily Wei.


The museum also has a fairly good contemporary collection, if small, and a similar mix of Ashcan and American impressionist works. Slightly disconcerting are teaching moment blurbs next to the permanent works, describing the piece and offering a somewhat subjective analysis. As in Alice Neel’s ‘Swedish Girls’:

Louise Nevelson. Silence-Music 1, 1974-1982. Painted wood. Gift of Mrs. Richard Jennings by exchange.

Robert Motherwell. Massive Image, 1991, acrylic on canvas. Museum purchase made possible by various donations.

Ida Kohlmeyer. Passage #2, 1963. Gift of the artist.

More on the collection in my next post.

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