Those who missed the engaging exhibition “Yes!” at Cincinnati Art Galleries, 225 East 6th Street in downtown Cincinnati (October 27 through November 25) are not wholly out of luck as it consisted of recent pieces by fifteen Gallery artists, whose work can often be seen in the spacious exhibition area there, although not so fully explored.
The artists had been given a brief quote from E.M. Forster’s novel, A Room With A View: “By the side of the everlasting Why there is a Yes. . . .” and the show consisted of new work responding to that “Yes.” Responding, in fact, with the exclamation point of the show’s title. Given the exhibition’s pervading sense of beauty and pleasure in execution this seems appropriate.
The show encompassed work by all their living artists, said David Hasrauth, owner and director of the gallery. All are based in the immediate Cincinnati area except Cindy Walton of North Carolina and Cynthia Kelly Overall of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. “Almost all the work is very recent, from the last 6 months to a year,” he added. All are paintings, with the exception of Mark Serrianne’s assemblages.
Serrianne sets out to capture our attention and hold it by surprising juxtapositions and thought-provoking uses of objects familiar in other contexts. These are not large works, perhaps a foot or so in height, but include such surprises as an ice cream cone in which the vanilla ice cream is represented by white painted barbed wire. Sculpture is seldom witty – its strengths are not in that direction – but Serrianne ignores that and makes it work.
People are in short supply in the exhibition’s paintings, barring those of Kate Lackman who creates scenes in which young, nude females who apparently can breath underwater as easily as the life surrounding them are seen interacting with the natives – that is to say, with fish, with turtles, with octopuses and so forth. The paintings are pleasantly blue/green and often if not always square, a forthright way to present a scene that requires a stretch to believe.
Ray Hassard includes people in his compositions, but they are small, in the distance, and may be under an umbrella. My notes on looking at “The Little Falls” (pastel on panel) say “every line counts. . .paths for the eye.” People are also incidental in Marc Daly’s rendering of classic subjects – boats, beach, New York City streets – but his textured surfaces are vital to the effect of the paintings.
Several of these artists explore landscapes in which the hand of man is discreetly present but the people all are gone. Lisa Molyneux’s landscapes are trees and streams and leaves and grass and cloudy skies where surely man has been although not there now. Valerie Shesko takes the same subject matter and moves it a step further into abstraction, but isn’t interested in actually arriving at that destination. M. Katherine Hurley’s landscapes, a familiar element in Cincinnati art shows, also show the hand of man but not man himself. Cindy Walton’s relatively small (20 x 20 inches) “Winter Forest Walk” is a distillation of trees and sky.
Leslie Shiels likes a generous size for her paintings, often populated by hound dogs who are busy doing what hound dogs do – that is, sniffing and hunting and engaging with their surroundings. Several of these were in the show, but my pick from her work there was a very large rendition of a parakeet and lilies, against a background of tiny yellow painted squares. Her works are in oil on linen, the linen providing a subtle texture to the surface.
Brian Burt gives cup cakes topped with a twirl of icing the serious consideration painters usually bestow on a portrait of someone renowned, but I preferred “A Combination of Memory” in which his precise rendering presents a reflective silver bowl filled with strawberries and slices of lime, accompanied by a rose, a child’s note, a painter’s brush and other evocative items in precise balance with one another.
The show amounted to quick looks at many of Cincinnati’s most familiar artists as well as some lesser known. Kevin T. Kelly, certainly of the first group, was seen here by three smallish landscapes, no people, horizontal compositions with sky predominate – a far cry from his people-dominated murals that set the tone for our airport in Northern Kentucky. No airplanes in these skies, but a pervading sense of peace and wonder. Another painting that prompted thoughts beyond its immediate subject matter was Adam Hayward’s tall, slim rendition of a tree that suggests a sinuous “s,” the sky bluest at the top and paler the lower it goes, the tree leaves a browned yellow.
Richard J. Luschek, long a teacher at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, was represented by characteristic work in which ordinary, daily things are given gravitas. Several works full of detail, often of flowers, by another familiar Cincinnati artist, Keith Klein, seem to culminate in the newest – appropriately called “Breakthrough.” It presents a swirl of objects against an orderly background.
Each artist responded to Forster’s “Why” with a statement posted with his/her work; some had a great deal to say but the most pointed seemed to me to be the shorter ones. After all, the work itself is answer enough. Valerie Shesko, for instance, was brisk and to the point in her response. “Because: I have loved playing with paint since kindergarten. Mixing colors is magical. Finding the image as I work is a joy and a challenge. Paintings free me to experience the world as I want to see it. I love seeing memories emerge in a finished piece.” Cindy Kelly-Overall was even more direct: she finds painting “a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.”
These works were a pleasure to look at, not demanding in the way some art is deliberately meant to be. They result from the informed views of people who can’t stop looking, weighing color and shape and relationships of probably just about everything they see, and then doing something about it with honed skill. So all of us, who like looking but haven’t their skill, have our own vision stretched by their work.