May’s mélange: Large-scale extractions, pictorial vocabularies and trippy inventiveness

ktx K103 susan ross

Susan Ross and one of her works. (Photo: Lynn Woods)

KMOCA, the Abeel Street contemporary art museum, specializes in small-scale works which best fit its two small rooms. So it was a surprise to be greeted at last Saturday’s opening by a large, telephone booth-sized painting whose combination of abstract figuration, psychological narrative and expressionistic color were clearly indebted to Picasso’s synthetic Cubism, Georges Roualt’s thickly outlined crowned heads and Jackson Pollack’s early totemic paintings.

Much of the surface was swathed in black, with an abstracted figure suggested by a swirl of bright, sizzling colors and a smaller figure drawn on the black in white outline. The energy and rawness of the brushstrokes and color seemed to energize and consolidate the space of the room, making it feel almost grand.


Entitled “David and Goliath,” the painting was by far the largest of the works on display by Susan Ross, who has been painting from her Hudson Valley home after an extraordinary career on the West Coast painting backdrops and models for Industrial Light & Magic, the Academy Award-winning special-effects film company founded by George Lucas. If you’ve seen The Hulk, Revenge of the Sith, or other action/fantasy Hollywood films, you’ve likely seen her work.

Ross said painting large came naturally considering the 20-by-100-foot scale of some of the backdrops. Technology enabled her to zoom in so close to a painted surface that it would appear abstract — if she looked hard enough she would begin to see images. That perceptual shift led to her current painting process, in which she simply scribbles marks on the canvas until a tangible image appears unbidden from her unconscious. Ross’ smaller works, arranged in a grid, similarly display her passion for expressionist painting, free of agendas from the conscious mind. Dynamic figurative forms, exuberantly painted and drawn, are semi-obscured by black, which lends the pieces drama and mystery. Previous to working in the film industry, Ross showed and sold her work; the KMOCA show represents her first foray into exhibiting since leaving the film industry.

Filling KMOCA’s storefront is an equally exuberant work of art, although you have to be standing in the right place — directly in front of the piece, minus any bodies in between (a feat that’s practically impossible during KMOCA’s crowded opening) — to fully appreciate it. Otherwise, the installation by Chris Victor, fashioned from a ladder, drop cloths, balloons, tape and cut paper appears to be rather ad hoc. But once you are properly positioned, per the artist’s instructions, the piece reveals itself to be a kind of three-dimensional abstract painting, its contrapuntal asymmetries pleasingly balanced and the sharp angles, droops and luscious, weighty curves of its various materials convincingly transformed into a formal pictorial vocabulary. The tension between materiality and the pictorial gives the piece its punch; having a classically Modernist work of art intrude into our space is a playful conceit that recalls the giant pop sculptures of Claes Oldenburg, in which telephones, combs, erasers and other common objects were depicted as soft sculptures of fabric or mock monuments.

Victor, who resides in Accord and has shown his work at SUNY Ulster and other regional venues, said playfulness is part of his nature. Just to do something different, one day he sliced up a plastic Gatorade bottle with an X-Acto blade and glued the pieces back together, which formed a gridwork of black lines that looked like a wire armature. He then melted some of the plastic interstices, letting the ashes fall into the bottle. The result is “Zero,” a deconstruction of a bottle that is one of the most intriguing pieces in the show. The lopsided, ancient-looking container, with its black interstices and hanging facets of glittering plastic, which look like crystal, suggests diamonds and rust, the aesthetics of a ruined cathedral transferred to a common object of the present as viewed from a post-apocalyptic future. The piece relates to the skeletal chairs, sheds and other found objects that Victor has altered to their bare essence by removing much of their material.

Plywood chevrons

The third artist in the show, Ken Landauer, is represented by works in plywood whose minimalist aesthetic contrasts strikingly to Victor’s and Ross’s pieces. As a woodworker, Landauer normally works with fine woods, such as the cherry used to frame the smooth, undulating form of a black rock in a wall piece. So it was stepping out of his comfort zone to use “the worse garbage,” as he puts it, for his new series of wall pieces and furniture. Out of dross he creates beautiful art pieces, such as the flat rectangular wall piece constructed out of cross-sections of plywood, which creates a compelling chevron-like pattern of beiges and browns.

To reduce waste and use a material affordable to the masses, Landauer conceived of his “99 Percent” project, in which each piece — including a round table, four chairs, a bench, and rocking chair — is constructed out of a single four-by-eight-foot sheet of plywood; the waste must be limited to no more than 1 percent of the sheet. (Actually, there was zero waste, since Landauer turned the scraps into a collection of tiny gabled houses.) The show includes examples of his patterns for chairs traced out on the flat sheet of plywood and the left-over scraps, an ingenious design that indicate Landauer may someday be giving Ikea a run for its money. Landauer also designs for comfort, and the four chairs arranged around the round table in the back room each use a different geometry, as the artist strived to improve the comfortableness by adjusting the angle of incline of the seat.

Peluso at Storefront Gallery

Nick Peluso is familiar to many as the long-time manager of Kingston’s Catskill Art and Office Supply store, and perhaps his skill at advising artist customers is related to the fact that he is an artist himself. His solo show of drawings, prints and painted cutouts at The Storefront Gallery, entitled “Issues of Consequence & Then Some,” abounds in trippy inventiveness and quasi-scientific speculation, the mystical, stylishly nostalgic and droll. It consists of intricate designs, ditties (there’s a hand-inscribed bit of verse on the wall; the artist is also a singer-songwriter), pop fantasias and prints as lavishly conceived and as beautifully executed as period Art Deco and Art Nouveau-styled graphics.