Exhibitions: Current | Upcoming | Past

Exhibitions: Past

Current Abstraction

Robert Kirschbaum | Scott Reeds | Marc St. Pierre | Janine Wong

June 1 – June 29, 2017

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We close the academic year with an exhibition of works by Robert Kirschbaum, Scott Reeds, Marc St. Pierre, and Janine Wong. Current Abstraction is an exuberant exhibition of works that are both a celebration of a conceptual approach to making work and an acknowledgement that abstraction is another way of responding to the complexities of the world around us.

Abstraction is the term used to identify art that is made using formal elements of line, shape, color, and form. Works made this way can refer to tangible things or objects, but they can also be simply about the arrangement of these elements on a two-dimensional surface or in a three-dimensional object — or sometimes exist in the territory between idea and object.

Invention is one of the common denominators for this exhibition. Robert Kirschbaum's work is interested in ideas derived from Judaic culture, Asian and Western art and artisanry, mathematics, and science. Scott Reeds' art relies on subtle contradictions. His isolated iconic figures struggle against the surface that made them, searching for a chance intersection between form and articulation. Marc St. Pierre's work in encaustic and collage references the language of maps and aerial views. Layers of translucent wax juxtapose the constructed with the unsystematic. Janine Wong focuses predominately on color and process. Her approach is painterly in these prints, manipulating fundamental properties such as the viscosity of the inks and the pressure on the press to achieve unexpected visual events.

These four artists have been committed for a long time to the exploration of a formal language inspired by architecture, maps, grids, religious symbols, processes and materials. Through their roots in printmaking and painting, another element they share is a fascination for layers, either of a physical or conceptual dimension.


Robert Kirschbaum

The 42-Letter Name

"Engrave them, carve them, weigh them, permute them, and transform them, and with them depict the soul of all that was formed and all that will be formed in the future." —The Sefer Yetzirah

The Sefer Yetzirah, the "Book of Formation," is an early magical and cosmogonic text lovingly embraced by later Kabbalists. It describes the forming of the letters of the alphabet as the elements of creation, the "building blocks" of the cosmos. The very physical nature of this process is striking. It speaks to me of art making, of familiar studio practice, particularly drawing ("weigh," "permute," and "transform") and printmaking ("engrave" and "carve").

This folio has its origins in my series of drawings, Devarim, which in Hebrew means both "words" and "things." The plural of davar, Devarim carries with it much of the same meaning as the Greek stoicheia, which can mean "elements" and "letters." Devarim is also the Hebrew designation of the Book of Deuteronomy. In Jewish mystical tradition, the universe is, in a sense, both written and constructed. It is a concept similar to logos in Greek and vac in Sanskrit: creation emanates from a sound/a word. In the Devarim drawings, I begin with a nine-square grid, commonly used as a demarcation of sacred space, found most prominently in Judaism as the basis for Ezekiel's Temple Vision. I draw a cube, each face divided into the aforementioned nine-square grid. Following the grid pattern, I then begin to carve out, weigh, transform, permute, and depict forms initially intended to function as plans for discrete objects that are fragments of a more perfect whole. In creating some of these images, I deliberately evoke Jewish symbols: Hebrew letter forms, Jewish ritual objects, and references to the Temple and Temple implements, as well as numeric symbols invoked by the introduction of plane shapes — hexagons, octagons, and circles.

The Devarim drawings are made using a method of mechanical drawing, "plan oblique," a three-dimensional axonometric projection wherein the top surface is drawn true in shape and size. Unlike perspective, all dimensions are to scale; there is no foreshortening. Appearing to project simultaneously both forward from the picture plane, and back into space, the lines demarcating planes never converge in axonometric drawings, and so they can be thought of as infinite. These drawings are at once both hyper-real and abstract: a single plane of the represented form always keeps its true dimensions. Regular shapes appear flat, but the viewer often perceives location in space as shifting: Axonometry eliminates, as art historian Yve-Alain Bois said, "all reference to the spectator's point of view . . . liberating the viewer from gravity." Using these qualities, I intend to make reference to the Infinite, a term that denotes both God and the Universe. In plan oblique, the outline of a full cube is also a perfect hexagon, which is both a symbolic diagram of the cosmos and an important Jewish symbol.

Extending the metaphor of word and thing, letter and element, each drawing — each image — can be considered a fragment of creation. For "The 42-Letter Name," 42 drawings have been selected from the Devarim series to form a suite of relief prints. Associated with the creation — the Zohar (the "Book of Splendor") speaks of "the first forty-two letters of the Holy Name, by which heaven and earth were created" — the 42-letter name is one of the "secret" names of God. The name's 42 letters consist of the first letter of each word in a nearly 2,000-year-old, 42-word prayer, the Ana B'koach.

Its reputed author, Rabbi Nehunya ben ha-Qanah (fl. second century CE), is himself the subject of some early mystical tales, especially a narrative wherein he — like Ezekiel — sees, and ascends to, the Throne of God. Hinting at God's activities prior to the creation, it is also said that through a process of encryption, this name consists of the first 42letters of the Book of Genesis. The tradition of the secret names is, as Professor Ronald Kiener wrote, "a progressively more arcane and complex cacophony" that includes the entire Torah, and hence, all that was created.

Many layers of memory are invested in this work: in late 1961, I spent nights learning Hebrew and to read Torah in preparation for my bar mitzvah. During the day I also studied mechanical drawing, thanks to the New York City public school system, which required middle school students to take industrial arts classes. In one such class, a graphic arts "shop," I had my first experience with letterpress and intaglio printing. While I never became the architect that, as a thirteen-year-old boy, I thought I'd be, the language of the drawing board — of the T-square and triangle — became the basis for much of my art, and printmaking became my primary medium.

As a child, I spent much time in my parents' basement, looking through our family genizah — the repository for old, fragile prayer books my grandparents brought to America from Bessarabia and Belorusse at the end of the nineteenth century. To me, the Hebrew pages were then totally indecipherable, but I knew they were an important discovery, a kind of personal Dead Sea Scrolls. Still worn and crumbling, my grandparents' books are now part of my library. While working on Devarim, I easily found the Ana B'koach in one of these prayer books. So, for me, despite my never hearing the prayer spoken aloud, the Ana B'koach, which invokes God's "powerful right hand," has been preserved and renewed as a source of inspiration.

The Akedah Series

The image of the ancient city of Jerusalem and its Temple, central to Judaism, has long sparked the imagination of artists in the West. Whether utilized as background for allegory, or as the central subject, such pictures have historically conveyed a continuous, dynamic, and powerful group of symbols.

Raised in a secular environment, I nonetheless absorbed the fundamental idea that we Jews are a people whose experience has been shaped by exile; that our return to our most sacred space awaits the miracle of redemption. Aware of our dispersion, I have found a need to internalize this ideal, to contain my sense of the sacred center, and to carry a sacred space within the precincts of my imagination. For more than thirty years, my art has been a means for me to reconcile the existence of tangible sanctified architectural elements in the home and in the synagogue with the broader significance of the Temple, its destruction and its mythic re-creation. Recognizing that this work of architecture is the single most potent image in a religion that eschews representation, I have undertaken to explore the symbol of the Temple within strictures imposed by the second commandment.

The site of the Temple is trans-historical. Linked to the creation of the world, Jewish legend indicates that the Temple is also the site of all previous altars, from Adam to Noah, as well as the altar constructed by Abraham as he prepared to sacrifice Isaac. In my Akedah Series of paintings and prints, I look to the storied origins of the Temple as a means to contemplate and comment on our difficult time.

Akedah means, literally, "binding." The Akedah is the biblical story of the binding of Isaac — also known as the Sacrifice of Isaac. As the narrative that is central to the formation of Judaism, as well as the other Abrahamic religions — Christianity and Islam — it is a major theme in the history of Jewish art as well as the history of art in the West in general. The Akedah carries with it a rich tradition of commentary; and it has endured as a metaphor for commitment and devotion, as well as loss, that resonates today in the post-9/11 era. With these works, I hope to add a visual dimension to the discourse surrounding the Akedah by focusing on its symbolism, particularly that which relates to the site and formation of Judaism's ancient Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, which itself speaks to the universal aspiration for repair and redemption " for peace.

Scott Reeds

My newest work was discovered serendipitously while trying to discard aluminum paint-mixing trays, I crumpled them but so encrusted with pigment they nearly stuck to my grasp. Looking closer, I imagined them as whole families of sculpture braced to the wall.

After some trial and error, an aluminum sheet is twisted with both hands in a decisive gesture. The contours are re-drawn by trimming away excess metal. Their muscularity and unique personalities appear as I plunge them repeatedly into a vat of thick, acrylic gesso. As a viscous mixture hardens meringue-like surfaces form; peaks, nooks, veins both smooth or gnarly. The exteriors are then coated with highly reflective aluminum paint that engage the high keyed hues of their geode-like interiors.

My studio is where particular methodologies merge into hybrid results. They are poised between certainty and revelation, risk and control. I am intrigued with the interplay of chance and intent in determining form.

Marc St. Pierre

Similar to an explorer, the encaustic and collage paintings reference the language of maps and aerial views. Firstly, I use a variety of printmaking processes as a departure for recording marks, surfaces and layers. This becomes a collage groundwork that allows me to invent the abstract equivalent of land patterns such as the meeting point of landmasses and water, for example. Secondly, additional layers of tracings from actual maps and topographic patterns are introduced. These drawings become a physical overlay suspended in translucent wax. Within this shallow space, the paintings establish a dialog between the unsystematic and the constructed. The result moves the viewer gradually over this precarious equilibrium constantly in flux.

Janine Wong

"Color is all. When color is right, form is right. Color is everything, color is vibration like music; everything is vibration". —Marc Chagall

I have been thinking a lot lately about my visual art and its relationship to music. Being immersed in classical music for over two decades sitting in on both my sons' violin lessons, attending their concerts as well as professional concerts in some of the greatest music halls in the US and Europe, I am intrigued by the multi-leveled space created by classical compositions. Each area of instruments perform in simultaneous layers that blend into a whole. I think of my prints in the very same way; multiple layers of parallel planes containing different pieces of visual information, marks of varying scales, colors and textures that, when successful, form a unified composition. In music you hear the layers overlap, forming an aural space. In my prints I like to think you peer into a visual space through the visual strata of the image; strata formed by layering new information via multiple passes through the press.


Robert Kirschbaum

1974 MFA School of Art, Yale University
1972 Diploma, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
1970 BA (History), University of Rochester, NY

Teaching Experience
Trinity College, Hartford, CT
1990–Present Professor of Fine Arts
1990–98 Director of Studio Arts
1992–95 Chairman, Department of Fine Arts

Selected Solo and Group Exhibitions
2014–15 Robert Kirschbaum's The 42-Letter Name, Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY
2012 Shaped by Books: The 42 Letter Name, Dodd Gallery, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut, Storrs; and The Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford, CT
2011 The 42-Letter Name, Melville House, Brooklyn, NY
2011 Small Paintings from The Akedah Series, Three Rivers Art Gallery, Three Rivers Community College, Norwich, CT
2010 The 42-Letter Name: A Portfolio of Prints by Robert Kirschbaum, University of Saint Joseph Art Gallery, West Hartford, CT

Selected Collections
Pennell Print Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University
U.S. State Department (Permanent Collection of U.S., Embassies & Consulates in: Peking, New Delhi, Nairobi, Bucharest, Warsaw, Paris, Rome, Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Brazilia)
Yale University Art Museum, New Haven, CT
New Britain Museum of American Art, CT

Scott Reeds

1979 MFA Yale School of Art, Printmaking
1976 BFA University of California at Berkeley Honors Program in Sculpture

Teaching Experience
2005–15 Adjunct Professor, Trinity College, Hartford, CT
2011–13 Part Time Faculty, Parsons the New School for Design, NYC
2003–08 Adjunct and Full Time Visiting Professor,Hampshire College, Amherst, MA

Selected Solo and Group Exhibitions
2010 Primary Objects, Melville House, Brooklyn
2010 Dual Action, Trinity College, Widener Gallery, Hartford, CT
2004 Plate to Print, Kristen Frederickson Contemporary Art, NYC
2014 21 & Counting, The Painting Center, NYC
2013 LiTHOGRAPHY: HERE & NOW, Blackburn 20/20,Elizabeth Foundation, NYC

Selected Collections
New York Public Library
Library of Congress, Washington DC
Brooklyn Museum
Yale University Art Gallery
Laguna Museum of Art
Chapman University, Santa Ana, CA Los Angeles Redevelopment Agency

Marc St. Pierre

1979 MFA, SIU Edwardsville, Illinois
1977 Centre Genevois de Gravure Contemporaine, Geneva, Switzerland
1976 Atelier 17, studied with Stanley William Hayter, Paris, France
1976 BFA Université Laval, Québec

Teaching Experience
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, North Dartmouth, MA, College of Visual and Performing Arts (1988–Present)
2003–2010 Chairperson Department of Fine Arts
1989–2003 Foundation Studio Arts Program Director
1999 Professor of Fine Arts

Selected Solo and Group Exhibitions
2014 Small Works, group show, Dedee Shattuck Gallery, Westport, MA
2014 Common Ground, two-person show, Laconia Gallery, Boston, MA
2014 Cartography: artists as mapmakers, juried exhibition, Schweinfurth Art Center, Auburn, NY
2013 Chartfields, Colo Colo Gallery, New Bedford, MA
2010 Territories, Café Gallery, Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River, MA
2009 Night Bird Series, University Art Gallery, UMass Dartmouth, MA

Selected Collections
Canadian Art Bank, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Cabinet des Estampes, Geneva, Switzerland
Meditech Inc. Westwood and Fall River, MA
Université Laval, Québec, Canada

Janine Wong

1984 MFA Yale University, Master of Fine Arts
1980 BFA Cornell University, Bachelor of Architecture

Teaching Experience
2005–Present Professor, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, North Dartmouth, MA, College of Visual and Performing Arts
2012 Instructor, UMass Dartmouth Summer Program, Beijing China
1996–2005 Associate Professor
1999–2002 Assistant Dean College of Visual and Performing Arts

Selected Solo and Group Exhibitions
2015 Approximate Exactitude: the Diagram ad the Book exhibition, Curated by Sarah Smith, Southern Graphics Council International Conference, Knoxville, TN
2014 Synergy, New Bedford Art Museum, New Bedford, MA
2014 Present (ation) Public (ation) Install (ation), University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
2013 Daredevils Under Pressure, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL
2013 Ocean Stories: A Synergy of Art and Oceanography, MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Museum of Science, Cambridge, MA