“I am more interested in the experiential than the informational,” writes Jean-Marc Superville Sovak of his abstract works of art. They ask the viewer to observe and consider. For example, consider the facial similarities in his video portraits of men from a variety of ethnic backgrounds who “look like” the artist, or the sources –140 manufacturing sites on the Hudson River – of common bricks used to build whole neighborhoods in New York City, reused by the artist as sculpture material. Consider and speculate on these visual statements, and let the experience alter what you see, who you think you are.
Matteawan Gallery on Main Street in Beacon officially closes for the month of January each year, during which downtime it offers artist residencies to support new or ongoing work that specifically includes a social, performative or participatory component. Superville Sovak’s project is an oral history of local issues and current events combined with portrait drawings; it is the third installment of the Winter Residency, started in 2014.
No stranger to project art, this Beacon resident, originally from Montreal, has mounted a monthlong participatory installation that aims to engage townspeople and visitors alike in an exchange. He is particularly interested in bringing in visitors who do not normally frequent art galleries and bridging the social gap between longtime residents and newcomers to the region. “Part of the intention of this project was to see how much communication can happen beyond the Facebook-type groups that proliferate. I think, because of the nature of social media, people are much more comfortable saying things online that they wouldn’t necessarily say in a face-to-face encounter, so how could that happen?”
“I Draw & You Talk” invites passersby to step in to get their portraits drawn while commenting on a central question posed by the artist, such as “Are you better off now than you were eight years ago?” or “Have you ever fired a gun?” Provocative poll questions are advertised on a sandwich board outside the gallery, where folks who choose not to enter can still “vote” on the topic of the day by dropping a pea into a yes-or-no container attached to the sandwich board. Those who do venture in for a conversation and a pencil or ink portrait are welcomed by a homemade cup of soup.
“A lot of what I do veers toward a non-artgoing audience, something I’m personally curious about. Last Saturday I had to turn people away, which I hated to do; it’s a first-come, first-served basis, so if I’m drawing someone and you have to wait, you can have a cup of soup and hang around. It has to do with the idea of transforming the gallery space into something of a cross between a barbershop and a soup kitchen – to attract people who might never have stepped into the gallery in the first place. If we could have the art gallery become a place where people just hang out, I would consider that a success.”
Superville Sovak’s work was included in the Kingston Sculpture Biennial and ArtBridge 2015, and “Reclaim, Reboot, Renew” at the Royal Society of American Art in Brooklyn. He has exhibited at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum in Cornwall; the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut; Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City; MANIFESTA 8 at the European Biennial of Contemporary Art in Murcia, Spain; the International Study & Curatorial Program in Brooklyn; and the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY-New Paltz. The recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, Superville Sovak also illustrated the novels Deadly and Into the Dangerous World, both authored by his wife, Julie Chibbaro.
The drawings will be on display until the end of Sovak’s residency, after which participants can collect their portraits in exchange for taking part in the project. Their recorded conversations are compiled and edited for a streaming podcast that can be seen and heard at https://idrawandyoutalk.wordpress.com. Documentation of the voting results will also be posted on the website. A closing reception on Sunday, January 31 will include a talk by the artist at 3 p.m. Check out his website at www.supervillesovak.com/video.html.
Jean-Marc Superville Sovak: “I Draw & You Talk,” through January 31, weekdays, 4-6 p.m., weekends, 12 noon-5 p.m., free/donation, Matteawan Gallery, 436 Main Street, Beacon; (845) 440-7901, www.matteawan.com.