Visual Experiences: Annual Art Faculty Exhibition 2012: Mercyhurst University
Now hanging in the Cummings Gallery at Mercyhurst University, the Annual Art Faculty Exhibition
A faculty exhibition is always a slightly odd experience. On the one hand, I remember being awestruck by seeing the oils of my mentor Berney Quick, but on the other hand wanting to shout at the work of my life-drawing instructor, "You are critical of me when you paint like that?!" If I had a third hand, I would observe, having been kindly permitted to exhibit with the art faculty of the Pennsylvania Governor's School of the Arts for eight seasons – even though not teaching Visual Arts – that the experience of a faculty exhibition is a little surreal for the instructors too. Personally, I favor the biennial of my alma mater over an annual such as this, which monopolizes precious gallery space that could be used for outside influences or student exhibitions.
Be that as it may, the Cummings Art Gallery, resplendent with the work of the full-time and adjunct art faculty, may well produce the same kind of responses I experienced in college.
Mary Elizabeth Meier, assistant professor of art, is represented with examples of her "Socio-Material Life of Chairs" series. These are monotypes, a method of pulling one-of-a-kind prints. They also tend towards the monochrome. What I find remarkable in these prints is that they are so precise and tightly controlled, as opposed to the more fluid and freewheeling monotypes I typically see.
Some of the more intriguing works are by Jodi Staniunas-Hopper, the graphic arts director. It is impossible to say just why an artist gets inspiration to do a particular kind of piece, but inspiration seems abundant here. For a lack of a better description, these hoods/headpieces – constructed with lace, embroidery feathers and crystals – are all displayed on glass mannequin heads, simultaneously suggesting the effect of wearing the piece without getting in the way, and actually giving the possibility of seeing some of the construction from the inside. The photos of all these pieces, oddly seeming larger and grander than they appear in real life, all use the same model.
But again, you never know where an artist will find inspiration, and some find it in working with the same model in series. These strikingly strong black and whites are technically well done, exotic, and powerful. They have the precision of a graphic designer but qualities that deftly cross over to the fine-art realm.
Assistant professor of art photography and art history Gary Cardot's photography cannot help but be technically good. Here, he offers us a series of recent inkjet prints of Gay Pride Parades in New York and Pittsburgh. There is obviously a thought-out message here, with parading members of various religious groups and political references. However, Gary is at his strongest with simple compositions strong on geometry, whereas these seem to be more a news documentary than anything.
Dan Burke, the art department chair, has three installations represented. In the years I have been in Erie his work has evolved perhaps more than any artist I know. Recently his bird cutouts have been breaking free of their confines. However a shift has occurred and the use of recycled materials has become important, as can be seen in "Perching Place with Fly By." It took me a minute to realize that the grove of interlaced trees was created by the unraveling of braided belts.
Patricia Tomczak-Czulewicz, adjunct faculty, comes with an impressive pedigree of education and professional working venues. It is disappointing, then, to say that the weakest link in this exhibition is her watercolors. Falling into the American School of watercolor illustration, they are the method of watercolor espoused in my junior-high school, wet colors held in place by black – or indigo – silhouetted trees – or other darks – and seemingly just as formulaic and uninspired as the assignment examples I remember.
Something of a surprise is Robert Tavani, assistant professor and director for art therapy, who uses acrylic paints reinforced with synthetic organza and mounted on canvas. These bold, bright, even garish over-statements combining words and primary colors, might just have had a therapeutic effect on the artist one imagines.
In the past, if someone asked me how to find a Jamie Borowicz painting, I might have said, "Look for something in black, white, and brown; and if it has bones, stones, and ancient ruins, poorly drafted with unconvincing linear perspective, that's it." Happily in recent years, Jamie, who is an adjunct faculty member, has transitioned into color in shallow picture plane, for which he has an incredible eye. These paintings are obsessively textured Trompe L'Oeil ("to fool the eye") effects, at which Jamie is adept. However, and it is a big however, he takes these brilliant forays into color and pattern and mounts them in poorly crafted slat-cabinetry, which look like they have been painted in black shoe polish and gold radiator paint.
Where I come from, seriously-done clay vessels are called "pottery," not "ceramics" (which is reserved for craft-store hobbyists). I am giving what I recognize as high praise to say that Associate Professor of Art Tom Hubert, a 32-year teaching veteran of Mercyhurst, is a serious potter who never disappoints. Though seen often in Erie, these shapes and the precise surface patterns are just not found elsewhere. There are also some here with a fuzzier watercolor look to them.
Heather Dana, the gallery director, has an incredible eye for arranging objects, which is nowhere more apparent than in the pairing of the Hubert's work with the fiber art of Annole Krider, two seemingly unlike media brilliantly complementing each other.
The true star of this exhibition, in my opinion, is Annoel Krider, guest alumna. Her credentials, rendered unnecessary by the work itself, speaks more loudly than any list of accomplishments would. These weavings, in complex combinations of balanced colors and patterns – warm, rich, vibrant, and high-contrast – come from an ancient
craft elevated to a high art. It was worth the trip just to be able to bask in the glow of these pieces.
Add to that the work of the other notables, and you have a gallery worth spending time in.
This exhibition continues until Sept. 23, at the Cummings Gallery of Mercyhurst University, lobby of the Mary D'Angelo Performing Arts Center, 501 E. 38 St. Gallery Night Reception: Sept. 21, 7 to 10 p.m. Gallery hours: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 2 to 5 p.m.
Luke Gehring can be contacted at lGehring@ErieReader.com.