By MARY HRBACEK June, 2018
“Parallel Fields,” curated by D. Dominick Lombardi at New York's Lichtundfire, presents the works of three artists, Kathleen Elliot, Kaethe Kauffman and Bobbie Moline-Kramer, whose distinctly individualistic personal visions highlight the importance in New York today of contemporary art that dares to be self-expressive. Elliot draws attention to the food question by creating sculptures of healthy food with synthetic wrapping materials. Moline-Kramer mines emotional and psychological terrain in her semi-abstract paintings, and Kauffman tracks the limits of isolated muscle movements, which she exposes in her photographs. To have a personal vision involves advancing one’s deepest thoughts, ideas, processes and imagery in an effort to bring something relevant and vital onto the radar of the public and the art world cognoscenti. This move requires savvy, self-confidence and imagination; it involves courage and fierce tenacity. One must be resolute in the face of what is unfortunately a rather closed conventional art world at large. Art that diverges beyond the confines of the once exciting but increasingly uninspired proliferation of generic conceptual art, Pop art, minimal/geometric art and the New York School, is scarce. It is one of life’s sad inevitabilities that everything that was once groundbreaking and new grows old.
The problem with listening to authentically promising new voices is that one must actually be open and ready to “hear” what they have to say, to think about the content and expression of the art without being threatened or immediately dismissive. Audiences must be willing to find the energy to mull over and absorb unusual thoughts and visions, to emerge from the protective armor of their comfort zones. Otherwise the NY art world will be slowly, inadvertently put in the position of a “historic” art center, with its focus set in times of past glory, not present and future art ascendancy.
Kaethe Kauffman has originated an empirical strategy for advancing insight and appreciation for the appearance and function of human muscular structure. She intends to increase awareness of the subconscious messages we transmit to others as our muscles expand and contract, by isolating and photographing selected body parts. She uses pure graphic black and white greasepaint that forges links with primitive cultures who venerate their bodies in crude but affirming rituals. Kauffman affixes paint-soaked string to a specified moving muscle group to tracts the expanse of each muscle as it smears pigment over the basecoat of greasepaint. The artist believes that by studying these movements she will increase her understanding of her body and improve her relationships, in keeping with the universal Buddhist law of cause and effect. Kauffman has photographed a series of four projecting thumbs; in India it is believed that the hand is linked with the divine; certain fingers, especially the thumb, are powerful because they are the location of one of our energy centers. The artist wants to generate appreciation of diverse forms of physical beauty that depart from the Grecian ideal.
These intriguing photographs present a sequence of repeated shots of one isolated body part, painted in a contrasting palette, positioned in sequential frames. The result is a visually striking, almost mesmerizing hybrid with underpinnings in biology, spirituality and filmmaking. The instinct to paint the body is one of the most primitive of human impulses. These works transport the viewer back to essentials, fostering a sense of curiosity and a heightened awareness of the limits of the scope of our muscular reach and facility. This enhances one’s identification with one’s own body. By applying paint to isolated body parts, Kauffman removes the human figure from its position of beauty and desire in Art History. In her photographs of severely aging skin, the artist is anxious to forge an updated concept of beauty by documenting skin as it changes with age. These pictures are especially poignant as omens of aging that awaits us all.
Bobbie Moline-Kramer has produced a body of work that defies easy definitions. She creates startling abstract tableaux that reveal embedded convincingly painted figurative elements that generate mystique and evoke curiosity. Although fixed in abstract fields, these recognizable forms hold their location with compelling power. The artist has a feeling for the emotional impact of abstraction and for the mastery of technique required in figurative painting. Moline-Kramer has not overlooked the potential drama so amply endowed in the insights of horror and imagination wrought from modern day tales of science fiction. The sci-fi cinematic genre appeared in earnest after the atom bomb was dropped, when the public imagination became captivated by the possibilities of narratives peopled with strange phenomena.
Moline-Kramer has invented a hybrid style that powerfully exploits the visual language to hone the expressive potential in abstraction, figuration and the sci-fi cinematic narrative approach. She creates vignettes that bring perceptible emotions to life on the canvas in the context of recognizable imagery such as eyes, facial expressions, fingers and hands. The artist exposes major areas of faces and features in a new departure that reveals emotional responses such as fear or alarm. The strokes may create visual equivalents for painful feelings generated by past experiences, which are perhaps ripe for resolution. The more the features and faces are exposed, the more powerful the images become.
Moline-Kramer enlivens her abstract formats by incorporating hyper-realistically painted faces and traits to replicate in mood the aura and ambiance of the corresponding non-objective hues and patterns. Sometimes the eyes are matched harmoniously with the design to create an uncanny sense of unity between the figure and the picture format. The artist intensifies the visual suspense by exposing more clearly large parts of faces whose foreheads and features are breaking through webs of brushstrokes. Eyes with closed lids and lush lashes paired with realistic-looking fingertips infuse the works with a sense of urgency that draws the viewer in, as if the underlying forms have a strongly felt need to express overwhelming unspecified feelings. These dramatic, affecting works compel viewer empathy and curiosity.
Kathleen Elliot’s “Questionable Foods” series is a highly charged wake-up call geared to spur awareness of the increasingly dubious content of the genetically altered, processed and packaged material that is currently presented as edible foodstuffs. She draws attention to the lack of transparency in the food industry with works that provoke doubts concerning food advertising in a mass media culture that is altering society’s values. The artist’s concerns span research on genetically modified foods, food marketing, the FDA and the role of politics with regard to pesticides and the handling of animals.
Elliot’s synthesis of glassware with actual package labels defies the accepted notion of glassworks in the context of art ideas and metaphors, to confound our concepts about the design function typically associated with glass. She is inspired by the Pop artists of the 1960’s whose insights into the impact of advertising on culture spurred them to their own mix of media and everyday objects, to quash forever the orthodox notions of “high art.” Unlike the Pop artists, Elliot creates fruit and vegetable-shaped sculptural objects with surfaces that are covered with collaged food labels. She plays with the forms, alternately allowing them to stand freely or inserting them into glass containers. The transparent quality of the glass provides a subtle intimation of the need for transparency in the food industry; it spurs the viewer to contemplate the actual content of the so-called food that is so innocuously labeled in daily life. Elliot’s used food labels and produce sculptures add a touch of visual nostalgia to the “questionable food“ series. By using a myriad of unrecognizable, collaged labels in the form of fruits and vegetables, the message that processed unmentionables equal our food becomes brilliantly subliminal.
Each artist’s signature vision drives forms that advance art with surges and flashes forward, minus Manga heads, cartoon imagery, or the addition of geo-shapes to perpetuate conventional predictable art modes. They are the products of candid thinkers who advance unconventional intentions. The artists are not trying to be clever; they are sincere. Elliot and Kauffman focus on creating art that in persuasive ways enlightens the public mind, while Moline-Kramer infuses underpinnings of the uncanny in her powerful realistically painted psychological vignettes. Purposive art often fosters unexpected change: without involved citizens with like-minded ideas such as Elliot’s progressive outlook, we might still be eating frosted flakes and drinking orangeade. These experimental artists demonstrate propensities to explore non-academic paths with sophisticated mixed genres, and non-European cultural practices. They have created intriguing, thought-provoking artworks with altruistic intentions that promulgate health, emotional resolution and personal awareness. WM
Mary Hrbacek is an artist who has been writing about art in New York City since the late 1990s. She has had more than one hundred reviews published in The M Magazine/The New York Art World, and has written in print and on-line NY Artbeat.com, Artes Magazine, d’Art International, Culture Catch.com and Whitehot Magazine. Her commentary spans a broad spectrum, from the contemporary cutting-edge to the Old Masters.view all articles from this author