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Five takes on 'Light and Spirit' at Ross Gallery 

The exhibit currently on view in St. John Fisher's Patricia O'Keefe Ross Art Gallery features five artists working in various styles, techniques, and subject matter, all loosely bound by the concepts of "light" and "spirit."

Sophia Amm's nine large acrylic and pastel paintings each have to do with division of some sort. Fissures run down the centers, creating separations along color, gender, and psychological lines, and speak to the conflict Amm observes in our efforts to co-exist. In "Once Lovers," female and male torsos face one another, with a tangle of static running between the two. Conflict with the self is included also with "We Are What We Think," in which a central human figure in profile bisects a big blue brain that fills the background.

Jane Notides-Benzing's three wall-mounted works use an energetic, chaotic combination of media to examine atmospheric elements. Looking skyward for her inspiration, Notides-Benzing has layered transparencies streaked with color, sparkling beads suspended by fishing line, and the glow of LED lights. In "Blown back among the stars," she's suspended beads and fibrous fishing lure filaments in front of a black background, resulting in a subtle twinkling and the appearance of two figure-like masses that seem to be leaking matter back into the great abyss.

John Kosboth's sole digital print, "What Part of Memory is Real?," features a glaringly bright ghost of a woman looking out at the viewer, her form rending and fading into a mass of colorful, warped shapes. One other figure is caught in this web of spun pixels: to the right, a man stands in a threshold to a street scene, and it is uncertain if he is part of her reverie or if she is his.

With a style that's identifiable across media, Richard Harvey's sculptures, ceramic masks, and mixed media paintings are raw and stripped down representations of figures and faces. Harvey's "Earth Two" is like a soil sprite bound in burlap and cord, with a head like a root vegetable and little sprouts emerging from its crown.

The wall-mounted mixed-media work, "Earth One," reads equally as an ancient doll and a ceremonial fetish. Flat-bodied and collared in fiber, an encaustic-adorned globe of a head apprehends the viewer with two simple holes for eyes, and twig-like appendages cap the piece like rays.

The pale face in Harvey's "Solitude in Blue" is vaguely reminiscent of a Modigliani painting, with its fine lines and dark pools of eyes. A bruise-colored, turbulent mood sweeps across the brow, and the expression is impossibly far away. In "Sundown," he captures a similar, haunted expression -- remarkably, he conveys his subject staring into the middle-distance with just a few lines and mottled color, this time in warmer hues.

I was familiar with Loraine Cooley's fine sculptural jewelry, but am now equally impressed by her mixed media sculptures. Both showcase a refined skillset and a preoccupation with spiritual and terrestrial journeys.

Cooley's "Vessel I" and "Vessel II" sculptures anthropomorphize the boat form, balancing the smooth bulk of each metal body on impossibly thin, willowy legs, creating creatures that brought Salvador Dali's stilt-walking elephants to mind. As graceful as they are, there's a certain anxiety hovering around them, particularly with "Vessel II," with its fragile ribcage exposed to the sky.

Between the two vessels, Cooley's tiny triptych fleet, "Phases: Birth-Chaos-Rest," sail side-by-side. The three silver boats each visually represent a part of the journey -- and are filled with gently flowering forms, with a crash of angry spikes, and with skeletal remains, respectively.

Of all the works in this show, I kept returning to Cooley's small sculpture, "Waiting/Wishing." The simple piece is composed of a small metal ball on a pedestal, with a tiny chair perched on the globe. Cooley's made this simple work gestural, with the sinewy back of the chair extending impossibly high, searching the atmosphere like a pair of antennae.

And the passage of time is ever-so-slightly suggested as the chair is perched at an angle, as if rooted to a globe that is rotating. For such simple, subtle imagery, the sculpture beautifully conveys the helpless feeling of longing.

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