Drawn Together @ the Scarab Club

Brienza, Bruner, Galbreath, and Carmen-Vian make drawings that engage

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Artists, Sue Carmen-Vian, Joyce Brienzia, Coco Bruner, Lynn Galbreath Image Courtesy of Jeff Cancelosi

Drawing has been around for a while. Think: Lascaux cave in Dordogne, France. And drawing is one of the major forms of expression, concerned with the making of lines, tonal areas, black and white or color, representational or abstract, the work in DRAWN TOGETHER is a strong exhibition, curated by Joyce Brienza. She says, “We are a group of artists and friends who have in common an interest in the idea of drawing as end point rather than merely a preparatory act. We are in love with drawing as a direct, no tech and un-electronic media. We see the pencil in some ways as an instrument of nostalgia, recalling the Renaissance quest for virtuosity. Our work ranges from narrative to abstraction but there is a conceptual bent towards popular culture that questions the separation of fine and applied arts.”

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Joyce Brenzia, Mixed media on Paper, 28″ x 22″

Joyce Brienza’s work, Given Name ll, is a colorful mixture of images that seem to have the feminine as a theme with overlapping figure and design elements. The compositional construction provides the audience with her artful dexterity with the human anatomy. She says, “In dreams and memories fragments are all we have to make up the whole. I work with images the way a DJ samples music to create my own brand of visual hip hop. By employing a collage technique, the works are constructed of layered and juxtaposed elements drawn from multiple sources that possess a particular personal and/or social significance. Among these sources are still life objects, toys, atomic structures, old master works, family photographs etc. This re-contextualization of images is a conduit for the generation of new meanings.” Her patterns are critical elements set within a grid that tell a story which resonates with the viewer. The work is both personal, and societal.

 

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Coco Bruner, Rhymes with Silence, Charcoal and Conte crayon , 30 X 22 – 2015

Coco Bruner’s work, here embellished in Rhymes with Silence, includes a variety of media, in which she manipulates the illusion of space and light. She includes both spontaneous and calculated gestures, while presenting an unconventional composition dominated by this large black circular shape. She says, “Each drawing begins with as spontaneous a gesture as possible. What follows is navigation between control and impulse, the known and unknown. It’s a bit like hitchhiking. You take a risk, not knowing where you’ll arrive, but you’ll probably learn something.” These rather pure abstractions present a sense of mystery that have no definable meaning. An MFA graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and recipient of a Kresge Visual Arts Fellowship in 2013, Bruner works in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography.

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Pony Boy, Graphite and gold leaf on Paper, 60″ x 50″

Here in her drawing Pony Boy, Lynn Galbreath juxtaposes a realistic rendering of two toy pistols against a background of line drawing and creates a young boy’s world filled with imagery and costume. She says in her statement, “I am born to create and cannot function on a daily basis without making something. I create to communicate. To me, art is the conversation we’ve been having since the beginning of time, the one that’s always probing the human condition.” In this drawing, it is the scale that works so well. If it were 8 X 11″, it would feel more like an illustration. Given its size 22 X 40″, the power of scale makes the work stronger, which is not always the case. These toy objects are rendered with such contrast and detail, they take on a life of their own.

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Sue Carmen-Vian, Way Out, 34 x 42 Graphite on Paper, 2016

In her work, Way Out, Sue Carmen-Vian, an MFA graduate from Wayne State University, provides a collection of stylized Van Gogh-like drawings that introduces her audience to a figurative type of surrealism that is personal and at times autobiographic. At a distance, these heavy black and white pencil drawings can have a woodcut feeling with her textural markings. In her statement she says, “The challenge of retirement from teaching is to continue to feel useful. As this part of my life fades my art has become more defined and developed. These drawings contain costumes and props from my on going performance art and teaching days.” On her way out in her new canoe, she seems to be navigating between herself on the right, standing up straight and balanced, versus herself hanging upside down in a quandary. I am sure, since she’s in charge of the canoe, everything will turn out just fine.

On September 9, the first Friday of the new fall 2016 season, there were six openings in Detroit (perhaps more). As I visited each, it wasn’t until I ended up at the Scarab Club that I experienced a loud and joyful community of artists, friends and family, who all had relationships with these four artists. If you’re a painter or a sculptor, it is likely that drawing is at the core of your work. We can look back in history and see the preliminary drawings made by Michelangelo, da Vinci and Rembrandt. Certainly, as demonstrated by these four artists, drawing as an art form is alive and well in history and present in Detroit. The Scarab Club, under the leadership or Treena Flannery Ericson, is the perfect home for DRAWN TOGETHER.

August 31-October 15, 2016
, 7-10 pm
 Gallery Talk: Saturday, September 24, 2 pm

Scarab Club

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colnaghi @ Wasserman Projects

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Frans Francken, Feast of the Gods, Oil on Panel – A landscape with Theseus and Achelous, with the Triumph of Poseidon and Amphitrite beyond Frans Francken the Younger / Antwerp, 1581 – Antwerp, 1642 Joos de Momper the Younger / Antwerp, 1564 – Antwerp, 1635 Signed lower left :Dᴼ FFRANCK. IN.E.F. Oil on panel, 72 x 157 cm. (28 ½ x 61 ¾ in.)

The Wasserman Projects opened a new exhibition, Old Masters / New World from the Colnaghi Gallery of London, for a limited time, September 7-11, 2016. The work includes major painting and sculpture by such artists as Frans Francken, Gaetano Gandolfi, Jusepe de Ribera, and Pedro Duque y Cornejo.

Gary Wasserman, Founder of Wasserman Projects says, “We share Colnaghi’s vision to connect the historic with the contemporary, and to show art in a diversity of contexts and through a wide range of collaborations. To be able to show these tremendous Old Master works in the contemporary, industrial-style setting of our exhibition space is an exciting proposition that highlights the connection between the past and present and offers a new way of experiencing both the art and the space.”

If you look at the trajectory of Wasserman Projects, set in a former firehouse in Detroit’s historic Eastern Market, the work on exhibition there has been contemporary and at times conceptual. The gallery works with artists from across disciplines and around the world, presenting exhibitions and performances that spark a discourse on art, but also cultural, social, or political issues, which are particularly active and timely in Detroit.

In attendance for this opening was Jorge Coll, CEO of Colnaghi, “We are thrilled to build on our long and storied history in America by holding our first exhibition in Detroit, and to be doing so in partnership within many of the greatest American museums and collections, including ones in this city. It is in this spirit of engaging new and existing communities of arts enthusiasts and collectors that we are holding Old Masters / New World in Detroit. We see our vision to present Old Master works across a wide range of locales as parallel to the missions of museums and universities to educate on the arts.”

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Fray Juan Bautista Maíno “The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist” Pastrana, 1581 – Madrid, 1649, Oil on Canvas 110.5cm x 92.5cm

The painting, The Holy Family, reminds this writer of how popular it was in the 14th through 16th centuries to paint the Madonna and Child. Here, the artist Stozzi,  includes Joseph, the husband of Mary, and the young child Jesus, reminding us of the age difference, and provides the audience with a direct and comforting look from the mother. When I first read and studied the work of Giovanni Bellini, it was amazing how many paintings he made of Madonna & Child. People of wealth during these times, would commission a painting for their home, and because Catholicism was the dominate religion, there was nothing more pure and sacred than this image. One gets the impression there was tremendous status in having such a painting in their home. So the answer to the question is that it was very lucrative for artists to make so many of these paintings. The only question raised here is who is the child at the bottom of the painting who draws the attention of both Jesus and Joseph with the halo? The answer is his cousin, John the Baptist.

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Giacomo Ceruti, Kitchen Still Life, 84 X 118 cm, Milan, 1698 – 1767

Still life paintings were popular during this time period. In Kitchen Still Life, the painter Giacomo Deriti produces a classic realistic composition that easily sets the stage for painters to come a century later. These near photo realistic images (before the invention of photography) are composed and lit, which provides the artist with an unlimited amount of time to compose, draw, under-paint, and add reflective details. Elements of illusion are magnified by having the knives come off the front edge of the table, while at the same time create a balance of shape and form with the light source coming from the upper left.

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Juan van der Hamen y Leon, Abraham and the Three Angles, 279 X 181cm, Madrid 1596-1631

The Spanish painter, Juan van der Hamen, was born in Madrid in 1596 and was recognized for his allegories and landscapes during the Baroque period. A prolific artist, van der Hamen painted all his works during the first decade of the reign of Philip IV. As a religious painter Hamen worked for several religious institutions in and around Madrid and Toledo, like the Monastery of the Descalzas Reales, in Madrid, for which he painted altars. The best surviving examples of his religious work are in the cloister of the Royal Convent of La Encarnación in Madrid, painted in 1625 in a naturalistic tenebristic style. The painting Abraham and the Three Angels is known for the stylistic characteristics and the iconographic interest of the scene, by which the artist interpreted the Biblical theme of the apparition of the three angels in the house of Abraham to announce that Sara would conceive a son.

So why is it important for young people today to experience this work, both in galleries and museums? Let me start by saying that many things that are part of human history continue to enrich our lives: Mathematics, Philosophy, Literature, Music and certainly Art. Do we not still listen to Bach and derive meaning that connects us to all music, and can we not still relate to the allegory in Dante’s Divine Comedy? For Wasserman Projects to bring this experience to Detroit creates the opportunity to expose Italian and Spanish Renaissance Painting to an audience that may not have thought of the connection that all art shares.

Wasserman Projects demonstrates that it is guided by a spirit of collaboration, recognizing that art is best realized and most meaningful when it engages the broad range of people such as the dynamic and diverse population of Detroit.

Wasserman Projects, September 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy @ Guggenheim, NYC

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Guggenheim Museum, New York City. All Images Courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum.

Moholy-Nagy: Future Present

Before a recent visit to NYC, I was set on visiting the new Met Breuer Museum (housed in the former Whitney Museum building) that is hosting a large photographic exhibition by Diane Arbus. But my interest in European Modernism pulled me away to the Guggenheim, which has mounted a major retrospective of work by the Hungarian artist, László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) who is unknown to me.   The compilation of work is the first comprehensive retrospective of Moholy-Nagy, likely the first artist with a large and diverse field of media, including painting, sculptures, works on paper and Plexiglas, photograms and films. Despite his visibility as a Bauhaus teacher and artist, his profile has been little known to American art schools. This exhibition conveys the experimental nature of his work that includes industrial materials, movement, light, and a variety of photo-based images.

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Installation View: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Future Present, Solomon Guggenheim Museum, 2016

The Bauhaus School (1919-1933), meaning in German to construct, struggled to exist at three locations in Germany during the early part of the 20th century. Founded by Walter Gropius in 1919, in Weimar, it moved to Dessau in 1925 where it housed an artist faculty that included Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Breuer, and László Moholy-Nagy, and then finally ended up in Berlin for one final year until the Nazi Party came to power. The school specialized in fine and applied arts influenced by the Constructivism movement that originated in Russia in 1913 under Vladimir Tatlin, where art was practiced for social purpose, and included architecture and typography. Constructivists proposed to replace art’s traditional concern with composition, rather a focus on construction. For many Constructivists, this entailed an ethic of “truth to materials,” the belief that materials should be employed only in accordance with their capacities.

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Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, CH BEATA l, 1939, Oil and Graphite on Canvas, Collection of the Solomon Guggenheim Museum

Juxtaposed against German Expressionism, Moholy-Nagy creates an image that reminds this writer of Kandinsky in his large oil on canvas, CH Beta 1. A non-objective abstract composition, the work relies heavily on design and the use of space, line and color on a flat plane void of objective meaning. If Kandinsky is the father of abstract art, then Moly-Nagy is an apostle presenting a new venue of work for the modern world. Born in Hungary in 1895, he attended art school in Budapest before bringing his Constructivist aesthetic to the Bauhaus school in Dessau. The mechanical free-floating geometries influenced many artists in the United States to follow, including Frank Stella, David Smith, Ad Reinhardt, Sol LeWitt and Sean Scully.

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Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Nickel Sculpture with Spiral, 1921, The Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Sibyl Moholy-Nagy

Moholy-Nagy’s nickel plated on iron-welded sculpture, owned by the Museum of Modern Art, demonstrates his industrial design and constructivist approach to the machining of objects and a spiral that inadvertently echoes the Guggenheim’s internal architecture.

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László Moholy-Nagy Photogram, 1941 Gelatin silver photogram, 28 x 36 cm The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Sally Petrilli, 1985 © 2016 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Collected by Hilla Rebay and Solomon Guggenheim, founders of the museum, this exhibition is beautifully arranged by Kelly Cullinan, the senior exhibition designer. I especially appreciated the extensive writings of Moholy-Nagy displayed on each level of the museum in vitrines. If I were still teaching painting at the college level, I would spend more time discussing European Modernism, especially the influence of the Bauhaus School and its teachers and artists.

Moholy-Nagy: Future Present is co-organized by Carol S. Eliel, Curator of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Karole P. B. Vail, Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; and Matthew S. Witkovsky, Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator, Department of Photography, Art Institute of Chicago. The Guggenheim presentation is organized by Vail, with the assistance of Ylinka Barotto, Curatorial Assistant, and Danielle Toubrinet, Exhibition Assistant.

Guggenheim Museum

 

 

 

“The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” @ University of Michigan Museum of Art

Treasures from the Collection of Nesta and Walter Spink at The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Installation shot Connoisseurs Legacy 2016

Installation – Connoisseurs Legacy 2016 All images Courtesy of the Michigan Museum of Art

“Our bodies love metaphors because they join our bodies to our soul rather than abandoning them to a soulless state. The ancient alchemists called this body-soul state “the subtle body.” They believed that the deeper we go into “the subtle body,” the greater the soul treasures it contains.”    -Marion Woodman, from The Maiden King

In a recent review, I speculated that museums and galleries have become depositories for objects we currently don’t know what to do with- that seem to have lost their vital place in culture-building. “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy,” a delicately curated selection of works from the private collection of Nesta and Walter Spink, provides a stark counterpoint to that idea- it speaks of the vital place works of art still have in the private lives of people who shape, and are shaped by, the lives of these works in the outer world.

The Spinks have been collecting works of art since the 1950’s, the early days of their long marriage and the gestation period of their respective paths of scholarship. Nesta specialized in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century prints and drawings, and would become one of America’s foremost experts on James McNeill Whistler, compiling, during her years as curator at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the most comprehensive catalog raisonne of Whistler’s prints ever written. Walter took as his subject the vast Buddhist shrine and monastery at Ajanta, India, and continues to advance his radical theory of the site’s history and development in an ongoing series of books about the caves. At age eighty-eight, he still spends several months a year in Ajanta.

The Spink’s collection is important, because it offers a unique opportunity to view great works of art from vastly different time periods, cultures and traditions side by side in one gallery. The collection, consisting mainly of works on paper from various traditions, punctuated by gems of religious sculpture, lovingly wrought textiles and charming decorative objects, testifies powerfully to the role graphic art (printmaking, illustration, stylized genre painting) plays across all cultures as a distillation of our human story into a universal, uniformly legible narrative.

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Milkmaid Manika Offering Curds to Jagannatha and Balabhadra on Horses Composed of Human Figures, India, Orissa, Puri School early 20th Century, opaque watercolor and lacquer on cot

The artists represented, from anonymous Mughal miniature painters and regional Indian folk artists to J. M. Whistler to Paul Klee and Andy Warhol, are all, “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” clarifies, driven by the same passion- to translate lived experience into a visual language that brings the body a bit closer to the soul. This, according to the psychologist Marion Woodman, is the purpose of metaphor- literally a “carrying over” of tangible life from this plane onto the subtler plane of our interior selves. Seen in this context, the diverse work in “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” sheds linear chronology, aesthetic movements, and regional traditions and unites in breath-taking waves of visual metaphor- allegorical dreams brought into the light.

Image 2 Hans Sebold Beham Achilles and Hector Engraving on laid paper 1510-30

Hans Sebold Beham Achilles and Hector Engraving on laid paper 1510-30

One of my favorite things about graphic art is its ability to both describe and subvert space- the void we move through and fill with our objects and ideas. The line that weaves through all the work in “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy,” the line that describes first and foremost, defines each century and tradition even as it unifies them. One gets the dynamic, jazzed-up line of the Twentieth Century as transcribed by Max Ernst and Paul Klee a hair before it leaps back into foursquare reality and forms a can of Campbell’s soup, appropriated as Art and autographed by Andy Warhol.

Image 3 Paul Klee Drawing for a Drama of Disunion, ink on paper, 1921

Paul Klee Drawing for a Drama of Disunion, ink on paper, 1921

Reel this line backward in time, and it grows, across America, Europe and Asia, more disciplined, hushed, and devoted to the sublime, describing fragments of statuary and architecture from Ancient Rome in two brilliantly mind-bending etchings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi that collapse space into an orderly grid of venerable objects floating on Enlightenment illumination. Leap across the gallery to a group of contemporary Mughal miniature paintings, and the same hushed veneration is there- describing the indescribable in a different way. The unearthly jewel tones and dream-like minglings of people and animals- many-armed deities astride tigers and giant pigeons- have the same spiritual devotion to beauty as their French and Italian comrades.

Image 4 Page from an Indian zodiac manuscript, Figure Mounted on a Tiger, possibly Saturn, India, Rajasthan, Jaipur school circa 1840, ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper

Page from an Indian zodiac manuscript, Figure Mounted on a Tiger, possibly Saturn, India, Rajasthan, Jaipur school circa 1840, ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper

The line meanders and condenses from the Warhol soup can back to a taut, potent carving of Christ crucified and back again to sensuous Jain statuary which draws on traditional Hindu sculpture to capture the ecstasy of spiritual union.

“The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” is also important because it exemplifies collecting for the best possible reasons. The works of art on display reflect the insight of the individuals who fell in love with each piece and fitted it in with the rest without an agenda, a rigid vision, or focus on material gain. It’s a reminder, as well, of the vital contribution private curation makes to the Humanities- Nesta and Walter understand the ensoulling power of these objects, and the instruction they can offer us about ourselves and our cultural inheritance. “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” suggests a continuous loop of visual language that cross-pollinates and subtly alters itself and its context with each change in perspective, each newly discovered visual rhyme that spans continents. This privately curated collection highlights the similarities, more than the differences, between works we are trained to view as vastly different from one another.

“The Connoisseurs’ Legacy: The Collection of Nesta and Walter Spink” is on view at The University of Michigan Museum of Art from June 18 through September 25, 2016.

University of Michigan Art Museum

Whitney Snow @ The Scarab Club

Tricks of Magical Realism 

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Whitney Snow, Installation Image, Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

Magical realism is the watchword of the Whitney Snow solo retrospective on display at the Scarab Club – the first since the painter’s passing in 2006. Snow certainly captured the spirit of magic realism, wherein surreal or “magical” elements are introduced to otherwise everyday scenarios. Likewise, his large-format paintings contain many cultural and art-historical allusions, as well as a symbol set designed for sly, if somewhat abstracted, political commentary – another imperative of magic realism as a device is its use in holding a somewhat whimsical or disruptive mirror to society or culture. In these respects – and in terms of realizing technically well-rendered tableaus – Snow’s work is very successful.

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Whitney Snow, Living on the Edge

But there is a creeping sense of vagueness that makes it hard to digest these images, on some level. Snow’s scenarios are, at times, amusing, but their magical elements leave them steeped in a kind of cartoonishness that makes it a challenge to take them very seriously. There is a fable-like quality to their narratives – again, much in alignment with the history of magic realism – but these protagonists engaged in foolish or nonsensical pursuits seem largely unmoved by their surrounding circumstances. One might expect a glimmer of consternation from the subject of Technology on my Back, who is being ridden like a backpack by a green demon of gambling and internet addiction, but there is barely a frown. One might anticipate high drama from the subjects of Living on the Ledge, a couple standing at the window addressing a third person poised to jump off a high ledge – the man on the ledge seems utterly indifferent, and the one at the window seems, at most, peeved. The de facto expression for Snow’s subjects is a deadpan. The experience of viewing his paintings is much like hearing about a crazy dream someone had last night – doubtlessly, each element is all terribly meaningful…but it lacks a kind of visceral immediacy to engage the viewer. This is particularly surprising, in light of Snow’s rather virtuosic ability to visualize his dreams.

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Whitney Snow, American Sunset

Arguably, this does not represent a problem. Indeed, all of these things – dream states, nonsense, and reality-disconnect – fit within the stylistic mechanisms of magic realism, and that being the stated parameters for Snow’s oeuvre, it is rigorously on-target. So, too, there is a wealth of symbolism, both in the form of pop cultural references and the complete canon of art history, from Roy Lichtenstein to the Greek muses. One imagines that a well-versed art historian could be happily occupied for some time identifying and picking apart these Easter eggs. This viewer, however, remains unmoved. Snow’s work seems to be a failing of both the magic and the real – too fine in its details to embrace abstraction, too wedded to some kind of discernible references to transcend the source material. The Easter eggs are just sitting there, right in the middle of the lawn; picking them up offers little satisfaction. And though it is wrong to fault an artist for making work that lacks relevance a decade after his passing, the current-day political stakes honestly feel just a little too high to swallow social commentary as generalized as American Sunset, wherein a bald eagle with a broken wing (get it?) sits atop an upside-down globe (get it???) soaked in a pool of spilled motor oil (GET IT???).

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Whitney Snow, Self Portrait of a Painter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Really, this might not stand out so starkly if it weren’t for the striking quality of the few examples of Snow’s “realism” paintings. Denver Skyline is about as straightforward a subject as one could encounter – the view out a window, blind half-drawn against a cloud-filled sky, clock on the sill, and just a few buildings visible. All of Snow’s ability to render fine details is applied to the exhibition sole believable female subject, in Portrait of a Woman. The woman makes piercing eye-contact, actualized to herself, and by extension, actualizing the viewer. Self-Portrait of a Painter seems to suggest that Snow took himself at least a little bit seriously. These images have a kind of quiet dignity, and demonstrate that Snow was capable of something beyond madcap imagery and imagistic political satire. In a poetic missive titled “The Illusion of Light,” Snow reveals a deeply painterly sentiment:

“It can teach us joy through observation and work
and when the day is done, we can return to the dark
with a heightened sense
of the infinite cycle of light and dark.  – Whitney Snow

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Whitney Snow, Newton’s Angel

One detects a hint, at least, that this master painter perhaps defaulted overmuch in the direction of his impish spirit; press beyond the magical veil, and you find a more serious sentiment. It is that gravity, more than Snow’s fanciful and magical tableaus, which inspires great curiosity in this visitor to his mind palace.

Scarab Club- http://scarabclub.org