REVIEW: Quintessential at Firehouse No. 13

While many think of Firehouse No. 13 as a hot spot for local performance and music events, it is important to know that the welcoming ground-level space hosts gallery shows as a backdrop to its ever changing roster of sound and dialogue.

Like other alternative arts spaces (I’m thinking back to some hairy events at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge) this can pose unique challenges to both artist and audience, as the ebb and flow of humans interact with each other, the elements (beverages, PA) and the artwork.

With this in mind, I was lucky to drop in on the soft opening of Quintessential, selected works by Nathanial Allen, Keith Borges, Tennyson LaCasio and Joshua Nierodzinski, just hours before the remnants of tropical storm Hannah soaked the steamy streets.

In “quintessential” FH 13 style, a backdrop of live music (by Borges’ duo 12lb. Beard) accompanied the artwork, and the artists were present in full opening dress. For me, a shocker! I’ve been getting used to the slack-asualness of Providence, i.e. the apparent acceptability of wearing pajama pants out on the town.

Beyond my shock of encountering eveningwear at an alternative space art opening, I can recommend a view of this show to anyone interested in emerging regional upstarts. The work, a fair mix of painting and small sculpture by South Coast/New Bedford-based artists, provides a balanced and thoughtful counterpoint to some of the more materially effusive and exuberant installation/performance-based work often seen from the younger set.

Keith Borges: "Grande double mocha latte with 18 sugars", Mixed-media

Above: "Grande double mocha latte with 18 sugars" (installation detail) by Keith Borges

While easy to overlook given the size of the space, the specimen-like mixed-media sculptures of Keith Borges are worth seeking out. By placing narrative combinations of formally simple, manmade and organic materials on narrow display pedestals, Borges forces the viewer to examine the reliquary and transient nature of objects. I particularly liked the scale of "Mutilation, Amputation, Humiliation", although the temptingly open tray of sugar-bedded, rusted belt-buckles bafflingly titled "Grande double mocha latte with 18 sugars" is the more daring of the set.

Nathaniel Allen: "Three Over Three", Mixed-media

Above: "Three over three" by Nathanial Allen

Fellow small-scale sculptor Nathanial Allen’s work is harder to sort out. Squarely arrayed on and across FH13's expansive plank floor, the barely knee-high works are challenging to confront from a full-sized human's (okay, ¾ size in my case) perspective. Simply constructed, and evocative of game board pieces, his "Three over three" and "Four blocks and a box" could serve as stronger studies for a larger sculptural idea. I would like to see Allen’s work in expanded form, or at least displayed on their own in a “white box” space more friendly to sculptural work of this challenging scale.

Studio neighbors Joshua Nierodzinski and Tennyson LaCasio chose to alternate their oil paintings across the long display wall. Certain pairings fare better than others, but the complimentary sizes and palates of the two painters provide a friendly platform with which to point out the formal differences in their work.

Tennyson LaCasio: "Ethereal Accension", Oil on canvas over board

Above: "Ethereal Accension" by Tennyson LaCasio

LaCasio’s canvases are ethereal, expressionistic and wildly atmospheric. My favorite piece in his set, “Ethereal Accension”, brings to mind Renaissance ceiling frescos in varying states of decay and conservation. While not easily visible on the depicted photo, a gestural pair of marks that could represent aircraft, birds, or perhaps the floating ghosts caused by retinal effects recede into a cloud and dust palate. I should point out that LaCasio is not afraid to confront challenging, and at times caustic color palates in the same, light-filled ethereal style.

Joshua Nierodzinski: "Little Portuguese Bend", Oil and acrylic on panel

Above: "Little Portuguese Bend" by Joshua Nierodzinksi

Nierodzinksi takes a similar, cerulean and dust palate to a journalistic, grid/ledger destination in his painting titled “April May March”. In this case, the light appears to be reflecting off of an object instead of emanating from an atmosphere. Again, counterpoint is a strength of this show. In this and “Little Portuguese Bend”, the other of his stronger, non-representational work, there is a sense of buildup and decay, with stabilizing bands of color supporting abstraction that hovers on the edge of becoming.

Quintessential officially opens at Firehouse No. 13 this Friday, September 12th, with musical hosts: Cardboard Fort, 12lb. Beard and friends providing live entertainment from 6pm-1am.

Firehouse No. 13: 41 Central St. Providence, RI 02907.

This Is What Happens When The Internet Is Down

It's interesting what I can get into when the internet is down at my studio. Here is a little drawing I made today when all www distractions were effectively removed from my periphery:

Brothers and Sisters: Graphite drawing on paper by Meredith Cutler

It's based on a cell-phone photo I snapped in Asissi of an anonymous street-art installation, that also made it into my lost and found series due to its content. This one is particularly pithy. I really enjoyed the liberties of drawing this; it was a timely reminder to do this type of thing more often.

Before the internet abandoned me to my loftier pursuits, I added a blast from the past to my portfolio section, from my highly experimental days in the 9yds. art collaborative. I think the fact that Providence is such an incubator for funky artist collaboratives inspired me to dig through the archives. Ahhh, those were the's nice to look back and remember when I did not need sleep to survive!

Speaking of which, ProvFlux decends upon us, August 7-11th. Keep an eyeball peeled for psychogeographers, and join in the festi-formance-games.

Weekend Roundup: First Beach, Then Art

As my Italy tan threatens to fade, there is nothing I look forward to more than a steamy, early August beach weekend here in Little Rhody. I'm firing up the flipflops and prepping the watermelon already!

Lest I lose all self respect while lathering on the 45 SPF and a dab of Jergens Natural Glow, let me recount the various other good things in the world of art and culture that await this weekend, just a stone's throw from the sandy shores of the Narragansett Bay and Atlantic Ocean.

All this weekend, at Fort Adams State Park: The Newport Folk Festival draws the indie crowd alongside the tried and true folkies, with low-key-cool acts like She & Him, Cat Power and Calexico sharing the stage with legends like Richie Havens.

Having made the journey to Newport, stay awhile and check out Saturday's Gallery Night, with free parking available at the Newport Art Museum.

"arrondissment" by Kevin Gilmore

As shown above, opening tonight at Jessica Hagen Fine Art + Design, new mixed-media paintings by Rhode Island native, Kevin Gilmore. Read my full review in this month's Artscope Magazine.

Just up the street at DeBlois Gallery, Street Art: In & Out opens tonight, with graffiti artists creating a site-specific work live in the gallery's front window.

Street Art: In & Out at DeBlois Gallery Newport

Heading back to Providence for the night, stop by Firehouse 13 for the opening of Straight Mixed Culture, a group show of Providence artists celebrating Providence culture "as it is". Word.

Straight Mixed Culture opens tonight at Firehouse 13

REVIEW: "Welcome To The Conversation": RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition, Part 7

It's high time I wrapped up this week-long review of the RISD MFA program thesis show, "Welcome To The Conversation". As I tend to do with my eating habits, and so with I am savoring the sweetest morsels for the last bite. Luckily, I saved some room and have a coffee handy.

"Gordon and Martha Behr It All" by Nathan Craven - RISD MFA Ceramics '08

I've reserved this last post for the work of ceramicist Nathan Craven. His installation "Gordon and Martha Behr It All" is one of those pieces that has to be visited with, and not just looked at. A sprawling, interlocking network of individually fired, extruded ceramic units; the work is visceral, beautiful, evocative and joyful.

"Gordon and Martha Behr It All" by Nathan Craven - RISD MFA Ceramics '08

A labor-intensive, obsessive arrangement, the microcosm of individual units interlock to create structure, and read like the cells of a massive endangered coral reef. There are discoveries and humor in the piece as well, with peepholes, an embossed "river" of what look like Rorschach blot tools, and a goofy "Where's Waldo"-esque portrait of what I was told (by a fellow graduate) is the artist's young son, peering out in wonder and horror at the spectacle.

"Gordon and Martha Behr It All" by Nathan Craven - RISD MFA Ceramics '08

If not already overstimulating, the strength of the combined network of elements is enough to support the physical weight of the viewer - and we were encouraged to walk upon the piece, like Jesus on water. The tactile exhilleration and forbidden pleasure of this action was evocative of walking over coals, or treading on a very expensive Persian carpet.

From what I saw and experienced under the artificial lights of the convention center, Craven's work has a talent for bringing people together in conversation and mutual wonder. One can only imagine what the results would be of giving a piece like this a more permanent home in a public arena; like a park, library courtyard or greenway.

Speaking of public space, for an overview of thesis projects by the students of  landscape and interior architecture, which I haven't had a chance to cover in detail, please visit their respective webpages, which I have linked to above. Also for your perusal, works by the department of industrial design, hopefully coming soon to a forward-thinking retailer near you.

Congratulations to the RISD MFA Class of 2008!

REVIEW: "Welcome To The Conversation": RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition, Part 6

Yesterday was a silent blog day for me, as I was off to Newport to conduct interviews for my upcoming Artscope articles. Picking up where I left off, I'll be wrapping up my week-long review of RISD's Graduate Thesis Exhibition over the next two days, with posts on the highlights from the MFA sculpture and ceramics candidates.

Returning from a long, stellar day exploring Newport's art spots and beaches a piedi, I put my sandy feet up just in time to watch the ongoing political drama of the Democratic national party. Hillary's toothy, "non-concilliatory / concilliatory" speech to the Obama camp reminded me of the circus of RISD grad Milton F. Stevenson V's day-glo thesis installation "The Beginning Of My Ascension To The Center Of The Universe Vol.2".

On my first visit, the installation starred two, life-sized photo cutouts of the would-be Democratic nominees. On my second visit, I noticed that Obama was...missing? Regardless, we'll be seeing plenty of Mr. Obama from now on, and since that was the day I was shooting photos, my mom graciously stood in for him. Hillary didn't seem to mind, as she's here for the party!

Milton F. Stevenson V - The Beginning Of My Ascension To The Center Of The Universe Vol.2

While I typically would not behave in such a manner at an art exhibit (editor's note: untrue), the content of this installation led me gleefully astray. Filled with tabloid deitritus, the installation is punctuated with hand-painted signs lettered with reactionary caustic remarks aimed at mass-media pop culture and high-art echelons alike.

Milton F. Stevenson V - The Beginning Of My Ascension To The Center Of The Universe Vol.2

The framed slogan: "Rachel Ray: The Dumbing of America" held court adjacent to "Your Residency Sucks Anyway", carefully lettered in stylized day-glo paint over an actual rejection letter to the artist from the Skowhegan residency commitee.

Milton F. Stevenson V - The Beginning of My Ascencion To The Center Of The Universe vol.2

Looking on, a google-eyed audience of altered tabloid covers, cheap plastic toys and portraits of goofy pop icons like Erkel, Pac Man and Mr. T. amidst a temporary forest of tape-striped placard posts. I pity the fool who doesn't see the exorcistic joy in this installation. Still, I wonder if the high court art influencers behind, say, the Whitney Biennial will latch on to this one, who took such care to frame his ubiquitous orange ticket stub for display, mounted between the lines of a hand-painted "Worst Biennial EVER" slogan.

Also making the most of deitritus and day-glo, Chandra Glaeseman's installation held court at the front of the exhibit hall. Using a towering array of building materials, her sculpture "I Have My Doubts" appeared rickety, yet dynamic.

Chandra Glaeseman RISD MFA Sculpture '08 - "I Have My Doubts" installation detail

In the vein of Jessica Stockholder, the materials seemed chosen for formal impact in lieu of narrative value. In this case, it worked, although given the height of the main tower element I wished to see the installation set against an unbroken background, rather than the limited temporary wall of the exhibition hall.

In my next post I will wrap up this week-long review with one of my favorite experiences of the exhibition. Stay tuned!

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