What Rich Mix Is This?

March 3rd, 2019  |  Published in Winter 2019

Judy Pfaff New Prints
Isaac Abrams Paintings + Drawings
Kirk Mangus Drawings + Ceramic Works

This handsome show of a trio of artists opened in late January and continues through to April 6, 2019 at the Solway Gallery in the west end.  Judy Pfaff is the giant in the room with exciting new prints in the largest gallery rooms at Solway. Pfaff was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2004 and was featured in PBS’s Art 21 in 2007, huge accolades by any measure.

Pfaff is best known for room-sized installations that retain authentic beauty while exploring various forms and materials in an ambitious scale. She fashioned out-there, space-age installations with industrial materials in their natural silvers and grays.  She has, however, mostly gravitated toward the natural and organic.  Her first such forays into organic installations looked like 3-D Matisses.  These are among her most iconic installations.

From all these bold sculptural explorations, Pfaff has focused considerable energy into her printmaking.  So her more recent organic forms that populate her sculptural installations have also appeared in her rich, layered prints.  These prints include a considerable amount of hand coloring and cut outs of plant forms (undulating lotus pods, flowers, leaves and tendrils) that are layered on top of the base print layer.  As such, the print seems to breathe and move.  These prints have been crazy successful and featured at print fairs and international art fairs in recent years.  There are some samples of these important works at the Solway show.

More importantly, new work is showcased.  Of course new work, Pfaff is tireless, always surprising her devoted audience and growing that audience with every new turn of work. The large prints Solway is showing reveal a strong use of digital imagery that in lesser hands would be predictable and boring.  With this new digital impulse, Pfaff amplifies the organic with mesmerizing undulating forms that are easily achieved through digital means. Pfaff is a celebratory colorist and as such she harnesses the power (and predictability) of digital methodology and keeps such a soft, harmonic pitch among the undulating colors that we see the lyrical imagery, not the digital underpinnings.

Many of Pfaff’s prints are in a long format like Asian prints to which they owe much.  Most of her prints that people are familiar with are in long, horizontal landscape format and a few are in a long vertical format.  Such a long expanse for an image naturally creates limpid space; room for thinking, looking, doubling back to parts of an image and circling back again. Standard prints we are familiar with are on paper sizes such as 30 x 40”, thus blocky in contrast to Pfaff’s luxurious long prints. Pfaff’s prints are a triumph of imagery, scale, new technical elements and sheer beauty. It is exciting and an honor to have the ceramics and drawings of Kirk Mangus (1952 – 2013) in a solo exhibition in the adjacent gallery. Mangus was the head of Ceramics at Kent State University, Ohio, from 1985-2013, where he was regarded as a beloved mentor to generations of students. He lectured widely in China, Japan, Korea, France, Italy, Finland, Lithuania, and Canada and throughout the United States. Solway Gallery states, “His pottery wheel demonstrations were viewed as extraordinary performances.” Mangus was the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts grants, four Ohio Arts Council Fellowships, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship, and a McKnight Fellowship Residency at the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis.

 

Solway further offers: “His prolific output draws from a staggering variety of influences, from comics to prehistoric representations of animals, modernist abstraction to West Coast 1970s Funk, to Japanese woodblock prints. His ceramics exhibit respect and affection for traditions as varied as North American folk pottery, Meso-American reliefs, and Asian vessels.” Mangus is famous for saying, when asked to delineate the distinction between functional objects and fine art: “My work is useful to look at.”

Mangus is a ceramicist’s ceramist.  He dug his own clay, built his own kilns, made traditional pottery and an astonishing array of exuberant sculpture. His work is playful, gestural, roughhewn with wonderful experimental glazing. His highly animated surfaces are deeply incised, stamped or glazed with teeming figurative references – human body forms, animals, plants, etc. He invented his own definition of beauty.

Mangus’s work is held in numerous collections including the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art; Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; The Fabric Workshop, Philadelphia; DeYoung Museum, San Francisco; Finnish Craft Museum, Helsinki; Inchon World Ceramics Center, Suwon, Korea; and National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea. In 2014-2015, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland organized the major retrospective exhibition, Kirk Mangus: Things Love. See this work!

The third artist is painter Isaac Abrams who is an early self-taught pioneer of psychedelic art and he continues to make psychedelic drawings and paintings.  His are densely painted canvases packed with organic forms morphing and pulsing in hallucinogenic landscapes. These are clearly the work of an autodidact and they do not hold my attention long because there has a lot of this kind of art. Let’s get high and draw! This is so cool it could be an album cover. You get my drift. In spite of my disinterest in this work, Abrams was recently included in the group exhibition, LITMUS TEST: Works On Paper from the Psychedelic Era at Fort Wayne Museum of Art, curated by Josef Zimmerman and Carlo McCormick, Cosmic Communities: Coming Out to Outer Space – Homofuturism, Applied Psychedelia & Magic Connectivity, at the Galerie Buchholz, New York, curated by Diedrich Diederichsen & Christopher Müller.  His works were also included in a traveling exhibition, Hippie Modernism Search for Utopia, curated by Andrew Baluvelt for the Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, and traveled to the Cranbrook Art Museum and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Rim Archives, 2016/2017.  Past exhibitions include Traces du Sacre, Centre Pompidou (Paris), Psychedelic, Visionary and Optical Art, San Antonio Museum of Art, Sous influences, la Maison Rouge (Paris), Summer of Love, Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), and Tate Gallery Liverpool.

–Cynthia Kukla

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