From Moment to Momentous
Contemporaries: 8 at Bonfoey Gallery
This fall many of Cleveland’s high-profile commercial and not-for-profit galleries are
showing a distinct gender bias. It should be cause for some self-congratulation on the part
of regional venues that they’re leaning towards women. This situation reflects the
increasing visibility on the international scene of artists of great strength – from Louise
Borgeoise to a long ‘A’ list of extraordinary names including the likes of Tracy Emin, Jenny
Saville, Laura Owens, and of course Dana Schutz – who happen to be female.
That same Dana Schutz currently has a solo show at MOCA Cleveland, as does Amy
Casey at Zygote Press, Jen Omaitz at e. gordon gallery, and Qian Li at CSU Gallery. In this
atmosphere it’s not surprising to encounter an all-women show at Bonfoey Gallery, the
region’s longest-running showcase for current visual art. The exhibit, called
Contemporaries: 8, displays the work of seven painters and one photographer based in
northern Ohio, all of whom are represented by Bonfoey’s. Primarily concerned with issues
of abstraction, and the borders between abstraction and depiction, the exhibit accurately
reflects the relative conservatism of art consumers in this region. Quiet, uncontroversial
notions of beauty intersect with abiding interests in the nature and process of symbolic
expression. All the same, several of our best, most consistent artists are included in what
on balance is a very satisfying group showing.
Peggy Kwong-Gordon, who was recently the subject of a solo exhibit of her own at MOCA
Cleveland, works in a variety of media that sometimes includes cast paper.. Born in China’
s Guangzhou Province and originally schooled in chemistry, her work mixes a semi-
scientific approach to visual observation and studio practice, with roots sunk deep in
Taoist philosophy and lore. Kwong-Gordon contemplates the ephemeral nature of all
expressions as she constructs a natural language of ideograms based on sketches she
makes of strands of her own wet hair, curled on the edge of the bathroom sink each
morning. She combines these with components of the actual Chinese character fu,
meaning happiness, written in the simple manner of ancient tomb script. Five of these are
jointly titled Writing a Garden. They evoke the seasons and convey a sense of the
articulateness of nature as it speaks to meditation.
Similarly, Susan Squires, who in the past few years has become one of northern Ohio’s
more visible artists, uses small, rectangular surfaces as primers for a slowly evolving
vocabulary of form and symbol. A ladder, a pyramid, a swirling vortex, a single, lumpy
stone are the principal actors on an ancient stage, sometimes centered in relation to an
incised or sketched grid. Squires’ mixed materials, which include encaustic, have a rusty,
excavated look that underlines the primordial nature of her search for significance.
Ruth Bercaw has long been noted for work that combines an interest in three-dimensional
geometric structures with expressive or painterly mark-making. Recently her work has
become more focused on subtle, transformative conditions of color and texture as she
folds her three-dimensional shapes onto the picture plane. The print/painting/collages at
Bonfoey’s assemble pieces of paper carefully rolled with oil paint, as if inked preparatory
to printing. Bercaw then aligns them in geometric partnerships that seem like studies for
much larger works. They speak beautifully of light and volume, and by extension refer to
architecture and landscape features.
Another veteran of the Cleveland scene, Kathleen Hammett, is known for large and small
abstract expressionist landscapes, bringing a dynamic eye and hand to perceptions of
native Ohio terrain. The paintings on view at Contemporaries: 8 are striped and veined
with painterly lines that evoke the branching divisions of streams and trees, or cracks
shattering the brittle shale of river beds. Several predominately green and blue mid-size oil
paintings on paper are part of a series of daily studies. Reacting to nature, 06-11 Bog
Willow, for instance, conjures a scratching of weeds guarding the privacy of a hidden place.
The development of a style, of an idiosyncratic approach to paint and subject matter, is
usually a matter of an artist finding a kindred spirit, then building on that recognition. For
Harriet Moore Ballard the British painter Ben Nicholson has been such a teacher of
sensibility. He became famous in the 1920’s and 1930’s for synthetic cubist-influenced
canvases. Traces of Nicholson’s influence – a tendency to flatten the picture plane with
words and outlined, transparent objects, and to explore delicate movements between warm
and cool colors – are evident in most of the Moore’s oil on canvas works here. But a
painting like her four foot square Migracion (2006) moves into its own territory. A patch of
brilliant white, like a table cloth or a shirt front on a summer’s day, contrasts with cool
areas of turquoise , decorated with narrow multicolored bands, like strips of native textiles,
and sections where geometric patterns are drawn in black paint, evoking ceramic motifs.
Ballard divides her time between Cleveland and the house and studio she built near
Mexico City. In the lovely Migracion, Mexico declares itself to be the clear winner.
Painters Mille Guldbeck and Susan Danko are relative newcomers to Bonfoey’s, and their
presence at Contemporaries: 8 provides an infusion of fresh talent, updating concerns
common to all the artists on view. Danko’s pseudo-landscapes compile a provisional list of
biomorphic forms, often rendered in soft greens, blues, and magentas -- terrariums for
paint that grow an exotic mixture of careful spills and drips. Mille Guibeck’s smallish mixed
media works on paper use substances like raw pigment and protein glues to generate
repetitive marks often “written” in the context of a sketchy grid, like the pages of an
exercise book. Sometimes referring to musical notation and inspired by human rhythms
like breathing, her paintings record and re-enact the constant micro-dramas and events of
the natural world.
In many ways the inkjet printed photographs of long-time Cleveland artist Garie Waltzer
stand alone in this exhibit, yet Waltzer also seeks moments of intersection between vast,
natural or man-made structures, and the minutiae of personality and everyday deviations.
Her black and white images often show vast European civic spaces viewed from high up,
scenes that capture a feeling of life writ large. Using as backdrops arenas, public pools,
the Eiffel Tower, a train in Sicily, Waltzer frames the soft mutability of daily life within an
exoskeleton of public space. The results are superbly composed and executed visual
epics about life in our times.