John Lees left New York City more than twenty years ago for the seclusion of an upstate attic studio where the painter found the physical and psychic space to make personal artworks from excavated memories. For Maria Calandra, a young Brooklyn-based artist, creative workspace is her subject matter, making intimate “portraits” of artist friends by drawing their studio interiors.
Lees, a self-described recluse, combines disparate influences like Roman wall painting, Song Dynasty landscapes and Looney Tunes cartoons in autobiographical canvases often worked on for decades. With layer after layer of paint, the heavily impastoed surfaces of recently finished paintings, currently on display at Betty Cuningham Gallery, turn once flat canvases into bas-reliefs.
In Mater, 1979-2012, the artist’s mother is seen in profile. An intensely pigmented blue is expertly controlled, tinting but not overpowering the subtle flesh tones of the portrait, edges of forms softly dissolving as the painter makes memory material. Though the facial features here are built up with years of accrued paint, the background has been scraped down to raw canvas.
Courtyard, 1986-2013, is based on recollections from the painter’s art school days. With lighting that recalls Italian Pittura Metafisica, a black sky shrouds the yard in mystery, an olive tree carefully articulated in middle distance. Another notable work, River Landscape, 1990-2012, crackles with light, a range of yellows illuminating an umber dreamscape as stars explode above a castle-like form.
Unlike Lees, who left New York for a more isolated country life, Maria Calandra is firmly ensconced in Brooklyn’s creative community, making artwork about making artwork. On the eve of Bushwick Open Studios (May 31st to June 2nd), Sardine Gallery, a small exhibition space in that Brooklyn neighborhood, is displaying a selection of Calandra’s drawings.
Made while visiting studios around Williamsburg and Bushwick, Calandra spends her days drawing interior workspaces while her artist-hosts are occupied with their own creative pursuits. Calandra then posts her drawings, along with photos from her visit and a written account of her day on her blog, ‘Pencil in the Studio’ (pencilinthestudio.blogspot.com).
Alternating between outline and shaded, tonal forms, Calandra’s works whimsically distort perspective and proportion, creating playful images that communicate a sense of her subject’s working method. In Dill’s Studio, 2012, Ariel Dill’s paintings lean against a wall, abstract designs floating off the canvas and into the air. On the right of the page the animated leaves of a rubber plant add to the fluidity of the scene.
In Luloff’s Studio, 2013, Lauren Luloff’s paintings lay face-up on the floor, an industrial fan on the side to speed the paint-drying process. A shelf with plants, books, cups of paint and a laptop are depicted in the convivial drawing, along with a view of Williamsburg seen from loft windows.
For Calandra and Lees, the art studio provides time and space for personal expression to develop. For Lees that means solitude, for Calandra, camaraderie.
John Lees is on view through June 22, 2013, Betty Cuningham Gallery, 541 West 25thStreet, New York, NY, 212-242-2772, www.bettycuninghamgallery.com
Maria Calandra/Pencil in the Studio is on view through June 16, 2013, Sardine, 286 Stanhope Street, Brooklyn, NY, open Saturdays and Sundays, 1 to 6PM or by appointment, www.sardinebk.com
Bushwick Open Studios, May 31-June 2 2013, www.artsinbushwick.org
More information about Xico Greenwald's work can be found at xicogreenwald.com