Pier 94, at the Hudson River and West 53rd Street, is once again hosting the ArtExpo 2016. Hundreds of artists, art publishers, gallery owners, illustrators and photographers gather in this annual convention, claimed to be the world largest fine arts trade show. But I like it for its diversity of talent and personalities and, typical of New York, the breadth of participating nationalities. Yes, there are exhibitors whose work seems hackneyed. There are artists repeating from prior years. But each year there are a new crop of aspiring artists of all ages and a spectrum of artists whose works seem particularly fresh or surprising. And whether by inclination or simply good marketing sense, the exhibitors (particularly the artists), will talk to you at length about their work and histories.
I share here some of what I found this year. (Taking notes in the course of a running conversation, often with a handful of promotional materials tucked under one arm and a camera bag on the other, I may have recorded some detail in an illegible script that leads me to err here; if I have so erred, I apologize to my subjects – but know that it will not detract a jot from the pleasure of the works on display or the process of making your own discoveries.)
Fritsch and Walpole, photographers. Octogenarian Chuck Fritsch and Cynthia Walpole, energetic and gracious husband and wife, have spent the last five years photographing hummingbirds in Costa Rica. Fritsch had a long career as an all purpose commercial photographer before arriving at this project. Walpole was raised in Costa Rica – where friends and family remain. They have developed a very effective 14 strobe lighting set up that enables them to capture these scintillating living jewels in remarkable detail and color that the human eye is incapable of seeing – because of the speed with which these tiny creatures move and the typically variegated light in which we see them. The spine of each feather is clearly limned in this process and, consequently, one’s first reaction is to ask – are these real?
Fritsch & Walpole
Costa Rica is home to about 50 species of hummingbirds, most of which are wonderfully iridescent with rich coloration. Fritch and Walpole have captured a good variety of them. Using software, the bird images are then extracted from the rather plain backdrop of the photo stage and artfully superimposed on exotic foliage and a dark background to set off the birds’ colors.
As with most wild life photography, especially in this day of digital imaging, an excessive number of images are taken of each subject that the public finally gets to see. Fritsch and Walpole claim an archive of above one million images. What many amateur photographers fail to appreciate is that the selection of the underlying image file and the “post processing” are responsible for a great part of the visual impact of the final pictures. Fritsch and Walpole pursue this with loving care. See: http://www.FocusFrog.com.
Asit Kumar Patnaik, Painter. Patnaik, a personable young Indian, originally hails from Berhampur, Orissa and now resides in New Delhi. His first foray into art as a young child was to model in clay the deities that were part of the local holiday traditions in Orissa. He pursued a formal art education gaining a BFA from the Government College of Art and Craft in Khallikote and later an MFA from the Banaras Hindu University. Patnaik is much decorated at home, has won numerous awards and been often exhibited. He is represented by galleries in New Delhi and Abu Dhabi.
Patnaik is considered a “semi-figurative realist”; a phrase I can’t quite deconstruct. Nonetheless, his images (based solely on those he has brought to the ArtExpo) are somewhat ethereal, serene and intriguing and, without meaning to detract from the seriousness of the art, simply pleasing in the forms and pallet. He experiments with surface textures – some impressed on the works and some educed from them by stressing the surfaces. The result is a suggested sense of history and pleasing feeling of solidity, as if the works are painted on something more substantial than canvas. Patnaik describes his paintings as reflecting subtle and shifting relationships between figures. These figures are typically set on abstract backgrounds that have “personalities” in their own right. He encourages each viewer’s personal interpretation of the underlying stories. By agreement with his New Delhi gallery, he does not show his work on a website but it can be found in abundance with most search engines.
Kaleo, mixed media artist. Kaleo (meaning, in his native Hawaiian, the voice or the music or the song) is a musician, artist and designer. He clearly has energy for all of these and more, and exudes an aspirational enthusiasm. I paused here as much for the artist as the art. While attending to the booth for Berkeley’s Gallery Giuseppe, Kaleo was wearing earrings, a black, white and silver brocade jacket adorned with military stripe patches of his own design, a tie and vest; his hair was concentrated atop his head (where I sport little); and his smile was as broad as his face. His father, uncles and brothers are all musicians in some manner – so that pursuit seemed a natural direction for Kaleo. Indeed, at some point he was signed to Mercury/Universal Records and, as a producer, singer and songwriter, had music featured in movies and television. But the visual arts (and fashion) reflect an obvious and irrepressible independence. Despite a seemingly Dickensian childhood, Kaleo has become a family man with a wife (teaching pre-school) and two young sons. If you are permitted to dig, even a little, into most lives, they are usually revealed to be fascinatingly rich and remarkably challenging.
Kaleo’s art includes social and political commentary that, in his words, “juxtaposes society’s overindulgent obsession with celebrity against its perverse compulsion for consumerism,” a concept consistent with my expectations for a Berkeley denizen (as a former Berkeley-ite myself). Unremarkably in that light, Kaleo waxed enthusiastic over Bernie Sanders. Indeed, it was a mixed media piece incorporating Sanders that first caught my eye (anticipating, as I was, the final pre-primary, New York democratic debate the same evening.) Kaleo’s visual works incorporate contemporary iconography (movie stars, sports and political figures, corporate insignia) and exhibit a rough energy not yet constrained by formal training. See www.artworkbykaleo.com.
Giuseppe Palumbo, sculptor. The progenitor of the Gallery Giuseppe is a trim and dapper middle-aged man with a quiet panache and a natural graciousness. He started his career in building and construction and, in his thirties, started taking studio art classes. Palumbo pursued classes for a decade in parallel with his profession. Toward the end of that decade he sold his first cast sculpture (in the style of a classical Greek torso) and dreamed of making a career in art. He mortgaged the house and gambled (now successfully) on that career. He credits a firm rooting in sound business practice with enabling him to make that transition. He has attended the Florence Academy of Art and continues to study and learn. His art is primarily cast statuary and much of it reflects a humor that, quite intentionally, avoids condescension. It is not intended to be “cute” but to combine sophisticated fine art with a bearable lightness of being (with apologies to Milan Kundera). Palumbo related his revelatory pleasure at the suggestion of a commenter that Polumbo’s work simply made him happy.
The large female head shown here is in fact a fountain that, for its full effect, requires a basin and plumbing. The hairdo comprises 20 fish; a fish forms a shawl on her shoulders and, a fish tail, the bodice of her bust. When plumbed, water emerges from both the head and the “shawl” fish.
Palumbo has established his studio within the confines of an Italian-owned foundry in Berkeley. (Italians remain among the best foundry workers for art, perhaps having honed, and passed down, metallurgical skills learned in the Renaissance.) See www.gallerygiuseppe.com.
Takashi Kajiyama, calligrapher. Several artists were at active work while at the show. Takashi Kajiyama, a calligrapher from Hiroshima, wielded his brush with almost aggressive intensity, momentarily contemplating each thrust and then executing it and briefly returning to repose. Each piece was sealed with a red chop. Kajiyama is a second generation Hiroshima survivor and is attempting to address issues of humanity and peace in his work. He was too engaged for conversation during my brief stay. He is widely exhibited in Japan, the US (New York and LA), China and Brazil.
Most artists were at ease and at liberty to share their vision and happy to talk about their work. I could only wish that museums were able to display their work in this manner – with live access to the artists; a most enjoyable way to experience art – one I highly recommend.