Artists Cathedrals Real and Imagined

Posted on 21 June 2013

"Interiors," oil on wood 2012 by Jennifer Cross

“Interiors,” oil on wood 2012 by Jennifer Cross

By Annette Hinkle

This weekend, the Silas Marder Gallery in Bridgehampton opens a new show which merges the notion of art and architecture. Entitled “Cathedral: Architecture and Atmosphere” by way of preparation for the show, gallery owner Silas Marder asked participating artists to either submit or create work related to the theme.

For artist Jennifer Cross, that came naturally.

“I think Silas is a little psychic,” confesses Cross. “He sent me an email asking what I was up to. This is new work no one has seen. I’ve been working on it the last year and half and have not let anyone know what I was up to.”

It turns out Marder and Cross were on the same page in many ways. Cross’ work conveys a definite — if wholly personal — sense of memory. Simple lines make up room-like spaces in her paintings offering hints of the outside world, but precious little explanation of what’s happening.

“Sometimes I’ll tear something out of the newspaper that hits me,” she says. “Maybe I’m influenced by something I hear on the radio or in dreams.”

And these random influences which subconsciously work their way into Cross’ paintings build new meaning as a result. Entirely coincidental, when examined, these meanings can trigger emotion in viewers far more complex than any Cross could contrive on her own.

“In the studio, I’m trying to allow these seemingly unconnected elements to come together in an invented space,” she explains. “If you think of day to day life, things are floating in and out of your head. They seem to not have a pattern. The way someone experiences thoughts and memories can be very random — artists try to hint at an order to the randomness in your head.”

Keeping intentions vague opens up possibilities and the work is able to create deeper meaning on its own — depending on the viewer.

In one of Cross’ painting, “Interiors,” the empty rooms are punctuated by tiny pictures on the walls which either have been left behind or are the cherished first objects to occupy a new space.

The viewer is left to fill in the blanks. Like a dream, the place, the story the history are all a bit fuzzy — and depending on your point of view, perhaps a bit ominous.

“They are dreamy,” concedes Cross. “You can’t put a finger on where they are. It’s this feeling life is passing before your eyes and slipping through your fingers. There’s a bit of what can you hold onto before it disappears — acknowledging the beauty and intensity of life at the same time it’s slipping away.”

In another painting, “Ring Around the Rosie” a group of tiny indistinct figures hold hands in an over-sized room. Cross notes the painting was inspired by a book of the lost treasures of Europe.

“All these buildings were partially or totally destroyed in W.W.II,” explains Cross. “Of course the loss of human life was enormous, but so many buildings were wiped off the face of the earth. It’s about architecture in ruin — that’s kind of been a recurring theme in my work.”

“You have to be a fool in this world to not recognize the tragedies and sins of civilization,” adds Cross. “At the same time human spirit carries on.”

“It’s just kind of embracing what it is to be human.”

"Gargoyle Girl 1," 16"x16"acrylic and collage on panel by Christian Little

“Gargoyle Girl 1,” 16″x16″acrylic and collage on panel by Christian Little

While Cross was already working in a mode that fit into the theme of this show, artist Christian Little was challenged to create new work that fit the notion of architecture while remaining true to his current vernacular.

As a result, Little is presenting a series of surreal paintings that merge (of all things) mid-20th century pinup iconography with a bit of old Europe — think gargoyles and halos in gold leaf.

Incongruous as it sounds, in fact, this work incorporates many of Little’s artistic influences, not only his art training SUNY New Paltz, but also the skills he picked up while working locally with Elizabeth Dow at her textile and wall covering studio.

As the studio’s creative director, he designed, developed and produced custom hand-painted wall coverings for high profile clients like President Obama (Little says he painted every single stripe in the Oval Office), Harrison Ford, Fabio, Lady De Rothschild, Gwen Stefani.

What he took from the experience was a refined understanding of color theory and the use of techniques like gold leaf or marbleized papers, both of which are evident in this new work.

“I learned new ways of manipulating material I hadn’t learned in college,” says Little. “A lot of the processes helped me expand as an artist.”

For Little, the question with this show was how to merge his current style — 1950s bathing beauties — with the architectural theme.

“I always had figures in my work, so I wasn’t going to do an architectural drawing of a cathedral,” says Little. “I was like, ‘How can I incorporate my own work with this?”

That idea was gargoyles and haloes which he has imposed in very surrealistic ways upon his female figures.

“Doing research, sculptural figures evolved on cathedrals with gargoyles on the roof and saints on the façades,” he says. “I decided to do my thing with the psychedelic paint swirls and pin-up girls.”

“It’s basically just marrying my own aesthetic sensibilities with this theme,” he adds. “I liked the challenge of this theme. But it took some time to figure out what to do – in the end I’m happy what I did.”

“I rose to the challenge,” notes Little.

Along the way, he elevated the classic female form to something a bit more.

“I had always been interested in having these images of joy and underlying sense of unease,” he adds. “In the end it doesn’t seem like sugar for your eyes – there’s a little more to it.”

“It’s like acid over the sugar.”

“Cathedral: Architecture and Atmosphere” opens Saturday, June 22, 2013 with a reception from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Silas Marder Gallery, 120 Snake Hollow Road, Bridgehampton with artwork by Marc Burckhardt, Jennifer Cross, Clare Grill, Halsey Hathaway, Christian Little, Aurora Robson, Christian Sampson and Pat Steir. The show runs through July 29. Call 702-2306 for details.

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