ITHACA, NY -- It’s hard to imagine the local gallery scene without the State of the Art Gallery (SoAG). Founded in 1989, the downtown cooperative has represented many of Ithaca’s best known and most accomplished artists. It would be a mistake though to take its membership roll as representing everything worthy about art in the area.
For its April exhibition, “15 Feet,” (through May 2) the SoAG has invited seven talented area artists to hang their work. It’s a reprieve from the gallery’s pandemic-driven diet of mostly predictable members’ group shows. Featuring artists diverse in person and in approach, “15 Feet,” though uneven, is a welcome intervention. From glitch art to folk art, it captures a variety of approaches less often seen in Ithaca’s formal galleries.
With her five large cyanotypes, photographer and alternative media artist Laurie Snyder has the most commanding presence here. Composed of scraps from the artist’s garden, these deep blue direct contact prints — exposed in the sunlight — pay homage to the work of 19th century botanist-photographer Anna Atkins. “Oxalis” and “Ipomea Cardinalis” have a linear clarity, the latter recalling Matisse’s cut outs. “Dill Corona,” “Garlic Scapes” and “Papyrus” are softer, ghostly.
Terry Plater, a former gallery member, is reprising “Train Ride (Dans le Train),” a panoramic oil painting from her show last year at the Community Arts Partnership’s ArtSpace. Painted on two adjoining canvases, the richly atmospheric piece captures a window view, looking out on an expanse of French countryside. Against an after-the-storm, late in the day mood, distant farm buildings and ghostly power lines memorialize a moment’s glance.
Those of us without religiosity in our bones may be hampered in entering the imaginative world of Kim Schrag, whose paintings and drawings exude a didactic, storytelling approach. Loaded with allegories of human hubris and conflict as well as the devastation of nature, these are pieces that ask to be taken seriously. As gallery art, her work is most compelling when it has a certain material heft.
Schrag’s four middle-size graphite drawings here lack that. Though intelligently conceived and drawn well enough, they lack the physical conviction needed to sell her weighty conceits. Her simplest composition, “Rising Water,” is the most memorable.
With five brightly colored mixed-media “Backpack” drawings, Elizabeth Wickenden McMahon brings out an irrepressibly personal take on the traditions of Cubist still life and the comic expressionism of the late painter Elizabeth Murray. The format of small framed works on paper seems insufficient for her expressive impulses — something larger, less safe seems called for here.
McMahon’s closest artistic kin here is fiber artist Leanora Erica Mims. Mims is showing a series of geometric patchwork quilts influenced by the traditional African American quilting of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, as well as the contemporary politics of Black Lives Matter.
Though these are all well done, I was particularly interested in her more unusual wall-work “Say Her Name: Atiana Jefferson — Bullet Proof Soul,” which memorializes a young Black woman killed by a police officer in 2019. The non-traditional quilt incorporates paper collage circles, text and unusually varied colors and patterns into a memorably disjointed whole.
Yen Ospina, who showed last month in a virtual-only presentation sponsored by CAP, is a compelling (and here a conspicuously youthful) artist. Her small digital prints here explore by now familiar territory: resplendent queens, alien mythology, bold color and pattern, Art Nouveau curves.
Werner Sun is a familiar presence in Ithaca’s gallery scene. Sun works with digital photo-manipulations, often incorporating “handmade” elaborations and sometimes spilling out into installation art.
His recent “Big Bang” series — generously sampled here — transforms rephotographed images of glitchy computer screens, adding intricately pyramidal paper-folds. While the digital prints of SoAG member Stan Bowman are garish and hyperbolic, Sun’s work is characteristically lucid and measured. Even in the impossible dense, incantatory “Big Bang 12,” nuances of phantasmic color and faceted geometry ably translate digital experience into “unplugged” gallery art.
As with the SoAG’s recent member exhibits, “15 Feet” might best be thought of as an anthology of tiny one-person shows. There’s a feeling here of these seven artists exploring their own separate tracks, only occasionally glancing at each other. Perhaps this is fitting for our times.