Red Drops

Masha Ryskin

Housed in a beautiful former studio space previously belonging to renowned Corning painter and art world figure Thomas Buechner, The Spencer Hill Gallery is a recent entry into that city’s lively commercial gallery scene. Following the death of the Corning Museum of Glass’ founding director in 2010, the space was reconceived by veteran gallerist Kathrine Page with the idea of showing a stable of accomplished contemporary artists: figurative, abstract, decorative.  

Thaw: New Work by Masha Ryskin continues an inaugural year of exhibitions begun last July with the gallery’s opening. It presents an inviting selection of mixed-media pieces thoughtfully incorporating painting, drawing, intaglio printmaking, collage, and sewing. Particularly eccentric is her signature use of tea and tea bags as well as coffee. 

The Rochester and Providence, RI-based artist will be familiar to some followers of art in Ithaca, having shown her work at the Ink Shop several times. Most significant was her two-person show in 2011 with Cristina de los Santos (another out-of-town artist), Cuts, Fragments, Collages. The artists filled the CSMA lobby with works that were often of paper as well as on it: cut, bound, layered and assembled. A few of Ryskin’s pieces used the architecture of the room as their support and frame. 

In contrast, the presentation here is traditional, with small to medium-sized pieces (mostly framed behind glass) hung in a neat eye-level row, broken only by a stacked display on a small back wall.  

Ryskin’s work evokes and reinvigorates the historical and experiential basis of abstract painting in landscape, with linework and patches of color and texture—often played off of open but seemingly pregnant spaces—that evoke mapping, travel and/or growth. 

Her bricolage sensibility also continues the collage abstraction of such modern artists as Kurt Schwitters, Anne Ryan and Conrad Marca-Relli (superb examples of the latter’s work can be seen at Cornell’s Mann Library). They are reminiscent as well of more homely traditions of quilting and patchwork. 

This fragments-made-whole sensibility is most evident and most potent in several pieces sharing a format. Framed and floating on pristine white matting, we see in each an elaborate, almost sculptural assemblage of sewn together scraps: teabags and thin, wrinkling papers. Compact in size, they evoke worn, patched up fabrics as well as pieces torn from maps. Lines of variously colored thread, sewn and dangling, interact with printed lines. The stitching suggests fences and borders, while the loose thread suggests a contrary unraveling. Colors are mostly neutral—off-whites and browns—with stains and paper colors merging with printed tones and textures. 

The boot-shaped Rice Terrain is a particularly compelling exemplar of this approach. Areas printed in painterly splotches of cyan and dark brown (the former a rare accent of strong color) have been incorporated into a elaborate translucently layered patchwork further developed through chalky dark red scrawls and a maze of thread in white and various dark colors. 

Other pieces here hew closer to painting, with patches of opaque white and watery color appearing to congeal onto graphite lines. Mylar and paper collage elements are used subtly. Relying on drawn and painted rather than stitched and printed lines, they have a more flowing, expansive feeling. If the “floaters” evoke borders and regulated movement, these suggest more lively meanderings: rivers, plant-growth, flight. They live up to the show’s title with their suggestions of spring to come. 

Done on relatively large sheets of light gray paper, a series of Dream pieces exemplify this side of her work. Laid horizontally, numbers I through III transmute expansive gestural drawing and areas of muted color into intimations of winter landscape: bare tree limbs, patches of snow and earth.

With its upright orientation and the stiffened, stylized fluidity of its dominating white paint-marks, Dream IV evokes the human form in manner reminiscent of Willem De Kooning’s female nudes.   

Unframed, three small, square panel paintings explore similar territory. Winter Garden incorporates straw alongside the more usual collaged scraps. The bewildering congestion and depth of Sea Monster is taken even further by Ryskin’s decision to carve through the lines and tone, revealing the clean white background surface below. The smaller, collage-less Red Drops centers on a twisting, branch-like configuration that imparts it with a sense of primordial dynamicism. The blood-like dark red drops bring a sense of cartoonishness. 

Thaw is a likeable albeit conservative show of work by an artist whose oeuvre in experimental in the best sense of that word: crossing media and genre with and exploratory but disciplined sensibility. 

The Spencer Hill Gallery is well worth a visit from Ithaca, particularly in conjunction with Corning’s other galleries and museums. Regular hours are Thursday - Saturday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. More information about the gallery, including upcoming exhibits can be found at www.spencerhillgallery.com or by calling 585-317-5409.

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