Photos by Lynn Woods
The artist’s studio on Dock St., peeking from between the trees, resembles a weathered tower or lighthouse. Inside, large, playful paintings of expressionistic nudes, landscapes, and still-lifes — the pairing of a dancing violin and a vase against a background of deep blue was a common motif —cover the expansive walls, illuminated by skylights. The artist, Ulf Loven, who migrated from his native Sweden to attend school in New York City many years ago, is pointing out the charming townscapes inspired by his extended stays in Greece; others, depicting fields of vegetation in fruity colors and leafy palms, were inspired by his trips to Bali. Still others, more abstract, depict “a different kind of space,” as he puts it, by positioning rectangles of color in loosely brushed atmospheric like fields and otherwise playing with the viewer’s expectations and preconceptions, thereby garnering his or her participation. “I want to stimulate the viewer’s imagination and get intimate with them,” he said. The annual Saugerties Artists Studio Tour is an invaluable opportunity to experience people’s reaction to his work, which “is always interesting,” he added.
It’s Saturday and Ulf’s studio is my first stop on the tour. Besides the art-filled space I’m enjoying Loven’s loquacious explanations and warm welcome to the handful of other visitors who’ve wandered in. I go out onto the deck, which overlooks the Esopus Creek, and am struck by the small awning Ulf has rigged up, with a sign to beware of falling nuts from the walnut tree that soars and spreads its branches overhead. It’s a little corner of heaven, and throughout the afternoon, as I visit other studios, each distinctive, each so expressive of each artist’s creative vision while meeting practical needs, that phrase reverberates through my mind… Surely there is no countryside or back streets more appealing that what I find in Saugerties and the drive down Fish Creek Rd. to Opus 40 on this spectacular afternoon — nor greater variety or critical mass of art-making, nor more friendly, forthcoming people.
While it’s wonderful to contemplate works of art in the clean, neutral space of a gallery, it’s more fun to actually visit the place where it was painted, sculpted, screwed together, printed, drawn, or fired. One of the appeals of the Saugerties Artists Studio Tour, which this year involved 30 artists, their studios scattered over an area stretching from High Falls Rd. in the north to Glasco Tpke. on the south and from the village to Band Camp Rd. in the west, is that besides the art you get to eyeball some fabulous, quirky places, often complemented by luscious gardens or even, in the case of Tad Richards’ studio, the amazing sculptural setting of Opus 40, whose tall plinth rising from the terraced spiral of stone has a kinship with the sacred sites of ancient Greece. The artists are not only welcoming, in many cases offering the visitor food and drink, in some cases quite delicious, but eager to talk about their creative process, bringing their work to life. Some of the artists said the tour is also lucrative for them, with some selling to loyal patrons who each year especially seek them out.
I finally pulled myself away from Loven’s engaging conversation and headed to Livingston St., where the close proximity of numbers 5 and 6 on the map meant I could visit two studios from a single parking spot. First I visited the meandering studio of American-Israeli sculptor Ze’ev Willy Neumann. The assortment of large, eye-catching pieces displayed on the sidewalk included a giant black water-chestnut, those strange, spikey things that wash up on the shores of the Hudson, positioned on a narrow metal spring. Neumann, a wiry, bearded man with smiling eyes who held a plastic container filled with water chestnuts, explained that the “ecology piece,” crafted from resin-coated Styrofoam, would be installed on the Saugerties Town Beach on August 23 and that it was entitled “Menace.” “I’ve always wanted to make that shape,” he said, noting that the beach installation would include an accompanying text listing the plant’s Latin name, slang names (such as “devil’s face”), and a paragraph explaining why the invasive plant from Japan, which the ninjas carried in pouches and threw on the ground when retreating from their enemies, is so harmful to the local ecology.
Neumann also makes more classically modernist abstract pieces, which he pointed out, as well as pop-inspired sculptures — he contributed the giant Gumby and Pokey cartoon figures in a recent village parade — and installation art. An example of the latter on display in his studio was a photograph of two grids of white lines painted on a street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which represent the cast shadows of the Twin Towers, and which were the basis of a 9/11 memorial he proposed consisting of a series of such “cast shadow” lines in numerous neighborhoods. Other pieces, such as a series of wall installations based on the theme of materials taking revenge on common tools — i.e. the piece “Revenge of the Nails” in which a hammer was subsumed in a sea of nails — used humor to engage the viewer.