ABSTRACT REALISM: THE REALITY OF ART
Curated by David Masello
I’ve long been intrigued by something I refer to as “abstract realism,” the notion being that an artist depicts something that is decidedly realistic while simultaneously embracing abstraction to articulate the object or figure or narrative. This is hardly a new idea. Think of Turner and his seascapes and port scenes, where the viewer knows what’s being shown, ultimately, while large portions of the canvas are lost in abstraction (and that was in the 1830s). Murky portions of a Turner landscape—a patch of fog or a stormy sky or billowing clouds—that could double as abstract expressionist moments are, nonetheless, illuminated by a sense of light and clarity.
In terms of coming upon this particular theme for this curated show, I simply began looking at every member’s website, with no known theme in mind. The process is akin to cupping your hand over a Ouija board piece with friends at a party and letting it move where it wants to move (whether you believe in such phenomena or not). I was so smitten with so many works by your member artists, that this theme of “abstract realism” seemed the fairest one of all, since virtually every artist here understands and practices this idea (though no spirits were talking to me…). I find that combination of realism and abstraction to be the most powerful, and because there are so many mediums practiced by your artists, it seemed logical to embrace a variety of materials—painting, photography, fiber art, sculpture, animation art. Diversity is crucial, not just in our daily lives, but also in the artworks we live with and admire. We live in a bewilderingly intolerant political climate right now, and any strategy we can each employ to include other people is an admirable one.
Most of the works I chose that adhere to this realistic/abstract dynamic embody that idea immediately upon first viewing. With some of the pieces, however, particularly the radiant, exhilarating sculptural works of Barbara Lubliner, the titles of her works signaled to me what was being depicted. The issue of titling works is a whole separate issue, but as someone who makes his living as a writer and magazine editor, I love words, I love descriptions, I love the poetry of language and a well titled artwork is one way of winning me right away.
Helene Mukhtar’s animations are wholly original creations—animations actually animated by figures in mostly abstract settings. I find her works hypnotic. And I can’t think of any other artworks that make me want to get up from my chair and actually dance while looking at them.
Susan Beallor Snyder manages to take a material as prosaic as natural manila rope and fashion it into sculptures that feel fully dimensional and alive. We see that face forming in rope, that sea horse–like creature, the turbulence of tidal shifts—and yet we don’t fully. That keeps any viewer looking—and admiring.
Some could well argue that Janet Culbertson’s landscapes are pure realism. But if you step away and look at the forms she depicts, you could easily mistake her beautiful shapes and perspectives as abstract/organic ones—right out of nature, which is exactly what she is depicting.
April Vollmer’s woodcuts, digital prints, and book projects are another perfect example of an effortless melding of the real with the interpreted. Of her digital prints of the Tsukiji Central Fish Market, we know what we’re looking at—masses of fish—but because her eye is so keen she informs the viewer of their inherent abstract quality. Here’s an example of something I would not have seen without her artwork. Her map of Manhattan is immediately recognizable, but in her treatment the shape of the island also becomes a (lovely) abstract form.
Another admirable aspect of works that might be characterized as “abstract realism” is that they appeal to all (or most) viewers, since the works incorporate elements that have to please both sides—those who only embrace realism and those who might flinch from it.
If artists really are able to show us non visual artists (that would be me) things we wouldn’t see on our own, then it makes perfect sense that elements of abstraction would figure in to otherwise realistic scenes of cityscapes or seascapes or portraits or whatever. I welcome these moments of abstraction because I know that the artist is seeing something and articulating something I would not have been able to discern on my own.
I’ve curated other art shows, I go to galleries every week, and, yet, I am reminded every single time, as if it’s a new epiphany, that there is an infinite variety of art. Everyone in your group is original. I could never tire of seeing these works. And that’s the reality of this show.
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An Environmental and Feminist artist for over 50 years, I (Janet Culbertson) paint Earth’s diverse creatures and landscapes, exploring their beauty and demise through abstract and realist techniques and textures. I was born in Pennsylvania and attended Carnegie Mellon University. After graduating I moved to New York City and received an MA from New York University which enabled me to earn a living teaching art while painting. During the Seventies, I had 4 one-woman shows in New York City at the Lerner-Heller Gallery; received a C.A.P.S. New York State graphics award; exhibited in a number of group and museum shows; and was featured in Heresies Magazine.
My “Mythmaker” series of 20 works is in the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts and I have environmental works in the Museo de los Ninos in Costa Rica and the Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia. Recently, I was a recipient of a Pollock Krasner grant and exhibited at the Accola/Griefen Gallery in NYC and I was honored to have a 40 year retrospective at the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia, New York. I currently live and paint on Shelter Island, NY.
New York artist, Barbara Lubliner moves fluidly from performance art to works on paper to sculpture both large and small. Additionally, Lubliner has organized and moderated panels, taught workshops, and curated shows. In recent years, Lubliner’s public installations and studio work have involved repurposing castoffs and trash, transforming it into playful art, shifting the focus from environmental blight to creative production. Solo exhibitions include the Gibson Gallery Museum at SUNY Potsdam; Carter Burden Gallery, NYC; Drawing Rooms, Jersey City, NJ; and Pierro Gallery, South Orange, NJ. Recent group exhibitions include City Reliquary Museum, NYC; Islip Art Museum, East Islip, NY; Edison Price Lighting Gallery, L.I.C., NY; and Ceres Gallery, NYC. Performance venues include the Brooklyn Museum and the Après Avant Garde Festival on the Staten Island Ferry.
Helene Mukhtar is a painter, animator and digital installation artist. Energy, passion, life, movement… these words define her work. Helene celebrates the human spirit and life on our planet in all its forms. She creates a magical world where abstraction mixes with realism. Her action-packed animations incorporate abstract computer-generated digital designs, live videos, characters from her paintings and frame by frame computer drawings based on rotoscoping techniques. The final films are incorporated into custom-made sculptural modules and presented in multi-media installations. In her paintings, she uses acrylic and favors expressionist, abstract brush strokes combined with bold color and flattened forms. Her colors reflect all the warmth of the Mediterranean sun which she experienced growing up in the South of France. Stylized human shapes evolve across the canvas in a sensuous and graceful dance.
Helene was born in Nice, France where she spent her formative years. She now lives and works in Brooklyn. She studied at the School of Visual Arts and the Art Students League in New York City and received an MFA from Florida State University. Her work has been exhibited widely in the US and abroad.
Born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Susan Beallor-Snyder’s creative, inquisitive nature led her to explore different mediums over the course of her life. As a young artist, her focus was black and white street photography. Then, inspired by finding a great aunt’s collection of beads, she pursued a successful career as a classical goldsmith creating striking sculptural pieces.
Those hand-fabricated pieces led Beallor-Snyder to her current focus of large- scale sustainable natural manila rope forms. Using a free-weaving technique to create one-of-a-kind sculptures, she infuses varying weights of the rope with thought- provoking depth and profound emotion. Beallor-Snyder’s inspirations come from the natural world. Her sought-after work is in corporate and private collections throughout the U.S. In addition to working as an artist, Beallor-Snyder has a background in film and television production and a passion for natural foods and holistic living.
April Vollmer is a New York artist and educator who specializes in mokuhanga, Japanese woodcut. She earned her M.F.A. from Hunter College, New York, in 1983, and first visited Japan with the Nagasawa Art Park Program in 2004. Since that time she has worked primarily in mokuhanga as a printmaker and educator. She has taught classes in mokuhanga at the Japan Society and the Lower East Side Printshop in New York; Cabrillo College and Kala Art Institute in California; MakingArtSafely in New Mexico; The Morgan Conservatory in Ohio; Art Print Residence in Spain, as well as many other locations. She has given lectures and demonstrations at many universities and independent print shops and has assisted in the organization of several exhibitions of contemporary mokuhanga.
Vollmer actively promotes cultural exchange through a study of mokuhanga and was on the board of the First and Second International Mokuhanga Conferences in Kyoto and Tokyo. She was communications advisor for the Third International Mokuhanga Conference, in Hawaii, which attracted a hundred participants from sixteen countries. In addition to exhibiting her prints, her work has been published in journals including Science, Printmaking Today and Contemporary Impressions. Her book on the history and contemporary use of mokuhanga, Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop was released by Watson-Guptill in 2015.
David Masello is executive editor of Milieu, a national print magazine about design, architecture, and art. He has written about art and culture for many periodicals, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fine Art Connoisseur (where he writes two columns) and has held staff positions at Town & Country (as features editor), Art & Antiques (New York editor), Travel & Leisure, Departures, et al. He is a widely published poet and essayist and many of his plays (a good number of which are ekphrastic in nature—referencing artworks) have been produced by the Manhattan Repertory Theatre, Chelsea Rep, AND Theatre Company, Jewish Women’s Theatre of Los Angeles, National Arts Club, and elsewhere. He is also an active member of Read650, the live essay reading series that has become a national phenomenon. He teaches a course at Sarah Lawrence College on writing about art and culture. A sampling of his works can be seen on his website, davidmasello.com.