Carin White reviews Beacon Open Studios 2015

Columbia Alumni Arts Access invited Carin Jean White ‘11SOA to write for their blog as a featured Guest Blogger. Carin wrote about her visit to Beacon Open Studios 2015, including Erica Hauser and Jon Reichert at Catalyst Gallery:

The first thing to know about the artist community in Beacon, NY is that it is diverse and has far reaches. Work from these talented artists is exhibited internationally, and it is not uncommon to run into art pieces of theirs in the city. Many of the artists that work in Beacon also show in NYC, but choose to work upstate for a different type of dialogue and working conditions. No doubt there is a certain appeal to taking a break and being able to walk outside to see Bear Mountain, or take an easy stroll down to the Hudson River.

When this year’s Open Studios dates were announced, I was excited to be in the area—I wanted to see my favorite artists on their own turf. The event is now in its seventh year and over 60 artists participated in the weekend.

After two days I felt like a curtain had been pulled back on the magnitude and scope of the art created in that town. Staggering.The organization of the weekend was excellent. Thanks to the program with the numbering of art studios and their locations, a map, and clear, visible signage—finding the studios was easy.

My sprint into Beacon’s Open Studios began at Spire, a cluster of studios in a plain white building; and then led to private homes; KuBe, a center for art and home to many studios, offices, and galleries; the Lofts at Beacon; and then back onto Main Street to the Catalyst Gallery. Some notable highlights were seeing artists Susan Walsh and Jayoung Yoon at KuBe, Ronnie Farley at the Beacon Lofts, and Erica Hauser and Jon Reichert at Catalyst Gallery.

On the east side of the KuBe with bright afternoon sunlight pouring in, Susan Walsh sat wearing white at a white table, in a very bright white studio. White squares were on the walls with dark lines forming various patterns. Last fall I had seen Susan’s work at the Matteawan Gallery and had marveled at how she sought to track sunlight. As she wrote on her website, “The Marking Time Series (thread and shadow drawings) evolved from an unexpected moment that happened in my studio in Beacon, New York, one day in January of 2013 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon—a precise, haunting intersection of an object (thread), the sun, and white paper… Each piece depicts one moment in time, when the sinking winter sun creates long shadows; both thread and sun are the charcoal, ink, pencil.” On her work table I could see nails casting shadows on white paper, waiting for her to draw them.

There is an elegance to Susan’s work, and the process she engages in allows her to not only record but be in a dialogue with light. The simplicity of the idea and beauty in the drawings make me think about the other ways an artist can reveal time and something as intangible as sunlight. Susan also described a series she is creating with the light at Dia: Beacon in the Sol LeWitt area of the museum. I’m looking forward to seeing how that series develops.

Another artist working at KuBe is Jayoung Yoon, whose work stopped me in my tracks and made me lean closer. Jayoung’s work is new to me, and so it took me a while to understand what I was viewing. Some squares on the wall looked like graph paper; in a clear case I saw a delicately knit glove; a thin robe hung from the ceiling—all of these were made with dark strands of human hair. I found her particular use of hair to make garments fascinating. The pieces both repelled me and intrigued me. There is something about looking at a work of art that is of a person in a very real and biological way. The idea that I am not looking at the person to whom the hair belonged, but am looking at something of them, and it is wearable creates intimacy and discomfort.

At the Lofts, I met Ronnie Farley, an award-winning photographer whose work I had heard about but never had the opportunity to view in-person.

Ronnie’s expansive loft is filled with photography, books, all the makings of a home- and a New York City water tower. For over two decades Ronnie photographed water towers in the city, during that time she got to know the two primary manufacturers of these structures, and was offered a water tower to keep. When Ronnie exhibited her series at the Gallery at Hudson Glass on Main Street, she actually brought her water tower as a part of the show. The final product of this twenty year project has been published in a book New York Water Towers.

The tall wooden structure now in Ronnie’s studio, carves out a more private sleeping area. The photography in her studio was primarily black and white, beautiful glossy prints that emphasized line and geography. The industrial water towers, still the standard method of residential and commercial storage of water in NYC, appear nearly majestic in these photographs. It is portraiture.

There is an almost spiritual quality to the work she creates. While this feels hinted at in the water tower series, it is extremely visible in one photograph that caught my eye by her entry way. It depicts grey-blue storm clouds brewing, and forming a large face charging forward above the land. When I asked Ronnie about the face, she told me of the dance the native peoples had done right beforehand, and how there had been another face showing in the clouds around the same time.

The last stop on my itinerary was the back room at Catalyst Gallery. Jon Reichert and Erica Hauser run the gallery and also use the back workroom as a studio.

Much of Jon’s work has revolved around the theme of donuts. In the studio I found six inch vinyl records painted as donuts, wooden donut sculptures, wooden donuts mounted on metal sheets and hung on the wall. The palate of these sculptures and paintings is shocking: bright-neon green, hot pink, and the like. What is kind of magical about the smaller donut sculptures is not how enticing they look (and they are insanely enticing with their neon frosting and sprinkles), but actually how they feel. With the weight of a donut sculpture on the flat of your palm, you will notice something quite brilliant about the heft. Each donut has the weight of a real cake donut. The work is delightful, and the tactile experience only enhances the effect. If you’re curious to see his work in larger scale, you can find two wooden donuts in a public installation on Main Street until October.

Erica Hauser paints whimsical signage and scenes of a past time. Her often muted tones paintings hold selective pops of color and make me appreciate the choices of mid-century ad design. While I see a lot of gray and neutrals employed in Erica’s canvases, they don’t feel “heavy,”instead I find myself charmed. Perhaps my favorite pieces are a series of popsicle signs; this could be a seasonal bias- but these four small to medium sized acrylic paintings bring a smile to my face.

Looking at a still life of an ice machine and watermelons in Watermelons with Ice Machine, I feel like things are presented at face value. It simply is two subjects forming a composition: watermelons, ice machine. However, even knowing that, I cannot help myself from imagining a character that would drive to a gas station or market and pick up a bag of ice and refreshing melon. Her still-lifes provide a space for the viewer to insert their own story or enjoy the beauty of vintage signage.

Jon’s and Erica’s work are very complementary when viewed together. While they choose different color palettes to work in, their work holds a clarity and playfulness.

I finished the weekend feeling inspired by the art and conversations. While it will be another year before the next Open Studios, you can visit Beacon and its artists through the many galleries. I recommend coming up on the Second Saturday of the month for the gallery openings; you will find an exciting and dynamic group of artists and art appreciators.