Photos by Rich Corozine
Unison Arts center is throwing a two-fer out on Mountain Rest Road in New Paltz: the 16th annual sculpture exhibition outside in the wood surrounding the center and inside the work of 88-year-old sculptor (she also has work outside) and painter Hannah Eshel. So it’s interesting just to roam around a bit and catch the light (it was a sunny day) falling on the more-than-60 pieces that sit monumentally (or even intimately) between/around/inside/next to the trees, bushes and rocks, and then go inside and see the work of this nearly forgotten artist who worked in relative obscurity for over 30 years.
Outside you can marvel at the funky painted-granite 500-pound half-buried cube that High Falls artist Bob Schuler has winnowed from his Tethys Project, where these stone glyphs will form an undersea necklace every 100 miles in the oceans around the world (Schuler has already crossed the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and the Pacific to the Galapagos Islands sinking the cubes); or Matt Pozorski’s seeming nod to Auguste Rodin’s classic “Burghers of Calais” with his concrete grouping of life-size figures “Present At the Notification”; to Jenna Efrein’s cast iron pile of severed hands sitting still on grey rock; Anti Liu’s sensual wood, clay and resin torso-figure “Tattoo Koi”; and Michael Poast’s site-specific steel, painted wood pathway to nowhere “Fence Sonata” winding its (part) way through the wood; all serenaded by Kazuo Kawasumi’s soundscape “Mirage IV” percolating through the air. Then before checking out Eshel’s paintings and drawings in the Center, you can feel the weight of the Carrara marble she loves so well in her elegant, broken, pitted column “Untitled” just outside the front door.
Eshel’s work inside is somethings old and somethings new, as a few of her older “slash” paintings — where she cuts into the subdued-painted canvas — are woven in between her newer patterned, colorful minimalist works on paper. And other than the work, which is classic modern, it is her life story that draws us in. Born in Palestine (before there was an Israel and a PLO-Hamas) 88 years ago, she joined the Haganah (a Jewish Military organization) and fought on the front lines in Israel’s 1948 war for independence. A few years later she moved to Paris, married and had a family, but ten years later found herself in Carrara, Italy, alone, to work in marble (she later wrote a memoir about those years — “Michelangelo and Me: Six Years in My Carrara Haven”). “Most people have been doing this for 20 years at age 40, I was 46 when I started,” she told the New York Times in an interview years later. She then moved to New York and into an old loft space downtown in NoHo and worked in complete obscurity for the next 32 years, until a few years ago an advertisement to share the loft-space brought an unsuspecting gallery owner to her door. He flipped when he saw all her work and began showing it around the City. And now at Unison.
“I had no interest in promoting art. I didn’t follow the fashions,” she said in that New York Times interview about those years. “I was just in love with art…it was my big love.”
Eshel’s indoor exhibition — “Fissures” — will be on until Aug. 24. For more information, call 255-1559 or visit www.unisonarts.org.