In 2008, following many conversations with Bert Crenca of AS220, I initiated a project to document and present contemporary representatives of Rhode Island’s visual arts community. Thus, NetWorks began — with portraits, videos, museum shows, and catalogues. The portraits adorn the halls and walls of Providence art space AS220. The videos appear annually and are repeated periodically on Rhode Island PBS; many can also be viewed online. The catalogues and videos are available in museums and libraries throughout Rhode Island. With this edition of NetWorks, we have now profiled 90 artists.
Throughout the project, Scott Lapham has been the portrait photographer; Richard Goulis the video artist; Nancy Whipple Grinnell the curator for biennial shows at the Newport Art Museum of the artists’ work; and Pat Appleton and Joel Grear of Malcolm Grear Designers have created the catalogues. I thank all of them for their continued, exemplary work. Of course, none of this would be possible without the vibrant and talented visual arts community in Rhode Island. The community of artists is a state treasure. Their collective creativity, work ethic, and commitment to excellence inspire me. Thank you for your interest in their work, and I hope you enjoy the various aspects of the NetWorks project.
Joseph A. Chazan, M.D.
NetWorks: Artists at Work
The Newport Art Museum is pleased to host NetWorks 2013-2014, with its outstanding roster of accomplished Rhode Island artists. This marks the fourth NetWorks exhibition at the Museum, and seemingly there is no end to the number of talented, dedicated artists working in our state. Characteristic of this latest NetWorks group is a remarkable variety of media, ranging from more mainstream painting, printmaking, drawing, sculpture and ceramics, to the less prevalent stonecarving, furniture design, collage, illustration, and textiles. A common thread to almost all the NetWorks artists is that they multi-task—they also teach or run workshops, have several different ventures going at once, work outside their art making, or collaborate on socially relevant projects.
Painting is not dead, as Paula Martiesian takes great pains to articulate. For her, it is a never-ending quest for the right color, line and expression. For David Barnes, it seems to be an exploration of subject matter as well as the paint itself; his past concerns with still life have been replaced by action painting that relates to the relentless pace of life. Much more introverted in her painting, Irene Lawrence often looks to music and words for inspiration. Morris Nathanson’s recent paintings are all about geometric form and shape. Using color and space in surreal ways, Monica Shinn paints the life around her. Julie Gearan’s lush paintings give the same beauty to figures and faces traditionally accorded to landscapes.
Twenty-first century artists are apt to explore less conventional materials in their art, however. For some it is adding a new element to an old tradition. Tracy Mahaffey is particularly fulfilled in her embrace of stone carving and is attempting to make memorials NetWorks: Artists at Work more three-dimensional. Saberah Malik’s practice of shibori, traditional Japanese tie-dyeing, led her to think about the form and content of fabric in a new way. Allison Paschke uses tangible and intangible materials in her sculptures: mirrors, porcelain, resins, inks, pins, light, shadow, voids, gravity. Such explorations of geometry and gravity take on an entirely different meaning in the sculptures of Stephen Metcalf who expresses great joy in his octahedrons and tetrahedrons. Another form that intrigues two of the NetWorks artists is the line. Jessica Rosner uses the line to tell a story or create an abstraction. Anthony Russo’s lines block in his narratives which often illustrate an article—or he uses painterly lines to portray a deceptively simple subject.
Those who teach at the Rhode Island School of Design are always masters of their craft, and that unquestionably applies to furniture designers John Dunnigan and Rosanne Somerson, sculptors Dean Snyder, Peter Prip, Michael Glancy, photographer Jesse Burke, and ceramicist Lawrence Bush. While these artists and craftsmen are intent on creating the finest personal work imaginable and showing it in prestigious venues, they share an equal passion for passing on their learning and techniques in the classroom.
Many artists have home studios and visiting them is part of the fun of the NetWorks projects. Invariably, private collections overlap into the studio, and the eye does not know where to stop. That is the case with retired Rhode Island College professor John de Melim whose lifetime of interest in ancient cultures is reflected in his incredible home. (But I note that his latest work is inspired by computers and printed circuits). Morris Nathanson’s studio/office is filled floor to ceiling with his woodcuts, paintings, assemblages, and mementoes. Ilse Nesbitt’s legendary Third and Elm Press, on “The Point” in Newport, is adorned with woodcuts and artists’ books that reflect her own blend of Japonisme and German expressionism. Last but not least, Judyth vanAmringe’s home and studio bursts with the trappings and trimmings of a creative life.
Finally, to be a successful artist in the twenty-first century is to be an artist on the move. Going global. Alan Metnick always has numerous projects in the works that take him to Poland, where he has been photographing Jewish cemeteries, or his native Chicago, or New York City, where his son collaborates with him. Boris Bally was off to Ireland for a commission, soon after I visited him. Bally’s prosperous career as a designer/craftsman often relies on his ability to be a world traveler. The world is getting smaller for artists; the NetWorks project helps them grow bigger.
Once again we are appreciative of Dr. Joseph Chazan’s vision and dedication. NetWorks serves as an opportunity to connect with the working lives of some of the region’s respected artists, to celebrate the importance of arts in our society, and to appreciate the range of talent that exists here in Rhode Island.
Nancy Whipple Grinnell
Curator, Newport Art Museum