George Nick: An Artist’s Conscience
Concord Art Association
37 Lexington Road
Through December 23
Through December 18
Since his first one person exhibition, in 1964, at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, in Pittsburgh, just a year after earning an MFA degree from Yale University, George Nick has been a consistent presence, as an exhibiting artist, and influential teacher. Most of those years have been spent in Boston where he has shown at regular intervals at Gallery Naga which has networked to produce a handsome catalogue in conjunction with a traveling exhibition, that starts at the Concord Art Association, the first of five venues. The publication includes essays by John Stomberg, formerly of Boston University and now with the Williams College Art Museum, and David Cohen. The artist’s last retrospective was organized by Jeffrey Keough for the Massachusetts College of Art, in 1993, on the occasion of his retirement from teaching there.
Given the tidal waves of post modernism in contemporary art the sincere, painterly realism of Nick may be viewed as an island in the storm. While the work is respected, its locus is fixed in a direct vision and subject matter which evokes the Ashcan School, in particular, John Sloan, or the quietitude of Americana, exemplified by Edward Hopper. While those are worthy bookmarks they indicate the ideology of a bygone era. And yet, he is a chronicler of sites and scenes that crave such loving documentation. In that sense, Nick may be regarded as a niche artist. Expounding, by example, a love of painting and richly surfaced, slick with medium representation of the urban landscape, primarily, and still life objects including construction machinery and classic cars. So there is an element of instant karma and nostalgia about the work.
Generally, the scenes, like Atget’s early morning views of Paris, are devoid of people. But we delight in recognizing the buildings that he elects to paint precisely for the humanistic, vibrant, living and breathing, sensibility that he invests in them. He has the knack for animating the inanimate. But one wished that he would be more responsive to the critical thinking of contemporary art that has swirled around him all these decades. Surely he can paint. It is the craft and passion that he has passed along to students and peers. But the work does not provoke poetic thought and irony. His buildings, objects, and landscapes are not much more than what they are. Which was not the case with Hopper, arguably, a source for Nick. In his deadpan manner Hopper evoked quiet but passionately subversive notions of solitude and estrangement. That’s why, even though of an earlier generation, artists like Hopper and Sloan were ultimately more modernist than Nick. This then is an anomaly of contemporary art. What is the now of now?
Pier Gustafson: A Blizzard of Snowflakes
67 Newbury Street
Through December 18
It has become an annual treat to see an array of small and very affordable “snowflakes” by the ever clever but now rarely seen master, Pier Gustafson. He was a Naga regular who has declined numerous invitations for a one man show, preferring to earn his bread by other means. He has a genius for working with and manipulating paper into trompe l’oeil sculptures. It’s not that long ago that he was regarded as one of the best and brightest Boston based artists of his generation. So this installation of two walls of the “snowflakes” silhouettes, an array of clustered objects, enhanced by white ink drawing, makes me long to see more of his work.
For now, just delight in these collectables, about $25- $75 each. In fact, I scoffed up several, a cluster of saxophones, date stamps, tacks, drafting compasses, and marched straight off to the framers, just in time for Christmas. They are perfect stocking stuffers and selling briskly.
Please Pier, more, we want more. Just what can we do to coax you out of hibernation? What will it take? Fame? Money? Glory? Just ask and you shall receive.
Tabitha Vevers: Miniatures
38 Newbury Street
Through December 23
During the opening Tabitha conveyed with a bit of humor that she had been putting in ten hour days for the past year and a half to reach the critical mass of this stunning and absorbing exhibition of an array of very small works. So small, in fact, that there are several magnifying glasses offered for the convenience of viewers. The better to study and marvel over the fine detail of her fanciful figurative nude women nestled into goal leafed clam shells, a natural product of Provincetown, where the artist summers. I asked if she had eaten the clams or made them into a nice sauce. But apparently not.
There are different themes in this exhibition. One series, apparently the oldest of this grouping, involved single eyes appropriated from famous paintings of art history, rendered onto small pieces of ivory, real and faux. The shells entail whimsical nudes seemingly acting out her private iconography and fantasies. There is a third theme of women twisted into Yoga poses set into small, gilded, tin frames from which vintage photographs appear to have been removed. There is a deliberate sense of nostalgia evoked by the work that makes one think of cameos and scrimshaw.
It is an interesting strategy of the artist to think small in an art world where scale is regarded as a measure of importance. The work seems to aspire to whittle the viewer down to size. Which, given this writer’s dimensions, is ambitious. It left me craving those little “eat me” “drink me” potions in “Alice in Wonderland.” But then, “I’m late, I’m late for a very important date. Hello, goodbye. I’m late. I’m late. I’m late.”
John Coplans: Photographs
Howard Yezerski Gallery
14 Newbury Street
Through December 24
This exhibition, a series of black and white blow ups of the late critic/artist’s body parts, particularly finger formations, is intended to parallel a large exhibition on view currently at the List Visual Arts Center at MIT.
By now the work as be so widely seen and discussed that there is little fresh to say about it. But it is important to note that Yezerski was among the first to show it. Initially, with little response. Some time back, Howard recalled for me how, for the first Coplans show, he hosted a dinner for the director’s circle of the Institute of Contemporary Art, in the former home of the gallery, a somewhat larger space. On that occasion, ICA director David Ross engaged in a public dialogue with the artist, a founder of Art Forum Magazine, who, rather late in life, began to photograph his nude, aged body, in abstracted configurations. Gradually, the work has been accepted into the canon of the masterpieces of contemporary photography.
So this exhibition while modest in scale, is important in noting a significant relationship and the astute vision and risk taking of the gallerist.
Susanna Coffey: New Paintings
14 Newbury Street
Through December 1
The artist is known for using her face as the subject of the paintings. They aren’t self portraits so much as a kind of saga of a persona. Her features are fairly described as plain and unremarkable, but always strongly rendered, in a variety of settings. There is always lots of structure implied in the architecture of her features. Much evident bone under the soft tissue. Like the planes and facets of Cubism but without the distortion and abstraction. This time, however, the artist seems obsessed with strum und drang. There is an apocalyptic aspect to the series that has variations on her head poking up at the bottom of horizontal picture planes that present a series of disasters. They make one feel that the artist has been fixed by horrific images of 9/11 and the threats of terrorism. Even though her “persona” is always neutral. Indeed, usually eyes wide shut. In some, rather sketchy pieces, or perhaps studies, the face disappears and we are left with the disaster of it all. Let’s face it. These works are both disarmingly modest and understated as well as resonantly and aggressively disturbing.
Chris Armstrong: Ocean Paintings
Beth Urdang Gallery
14 Newbury Street
Through November 27
With this first Boston show, the artist who has recently relocated to Gloucester, Massachusetts, is making waves. Literally. They involve a view of the ocean looking toward the horizon line. The variations come in changes of weather and atmosphere. In some works the sea and horizon line are sharply rendered, in others, a fog obscures the detail. Yet again, there are glints of sharp light catching the facets of the waves. Overall, the mood is sublime and serene. This is a meticulous and calming view of the sea. The work is not unique in form or concept, but it is crisply and beautifully articulate.
Images of artworks courtesy of respective galleries.
Charles Giuliano is a Boston based artist, curator and critic. He is a contributor to Nyartsmagazine, and the director of exhibitions for The New England School of Art & Design at Suffolk University. He periodically sends his column “Maverick Arts” via email, and Big, Red & Shiny is proud to reprint it here.