Emerging artists

By Cate McQuaid, Globe Correspondent, 02/28/02


The Boston art community tends to think of itself as New York's poor cousin, overlooked and misunderstood. But Boston, with its rich, educational resources, has long been a proving ground for young artists, many of whom have gone on to international recognition. The School of the Museum of Fine Arts alone has produced arts stars Ellen Gallagher and twins Mike and Doug Starn.

Art dealers discourage buying art as an investment; better to put down your dollar for something you love, something you want to hang on your living room wall. That's true. But there is a thrill to spotting the maverick work of a young unknown, an artist who might just be someone someday. Buy his or her painting, and you can say you were there at the beginning.

Put yourself on the lookout for rising talent. Attend exhibitions at the art schools. Keep an eye out for shows that tap young artists. Here's a sampling of artists on the verge. Read on, and not long from now you'll be able to say you knew them when.

Morgan Cohen
When a roof is not just a roof

Morgan Cohen is all over the map this spring. He's in the "Sacred Spaces" at the Starr Gallery in the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center. He has his first solo show coming up at Gallery NAGA in May. And he's been tapped to be part of a photography show coming in June to the Fuller Museum [this show has since been cancelled].Cohen photographs ordinary spaces and objects in a way that forces the viewer to see them differently. His work at the Starr Gallery is all photographs of corners: spare, elegant prints in which the color is muted."I'm not sure how it started," Cohen, 29, says as he sips a coffee in his studio on Amory Street in Jamaica Plain. "Most of it has to do with finding a space that can be transformed by isolating it. To find a space free from distracting forms, so light and surfaces can be fully seen and felt."Cohen started shooting corners three years ago when he moved to an apartment in Jamaica Plain, where he teaches at the Boston Photo Coop. (He now lives in Arlington.) "I began by looking at the space I was in," he says. "Then I photographed the same corner numerous times, to see how it changed over time."Cohen grew up in Maryland and studied photography at Hampshire College, where he began to experiment with the medium's potential for abstraction. "I was moving the camera, creating blurs of color, and bringing the camera completely out of focus," he says. His early prints are lush and painterly in their use of light and color. Cohen takes the compliment but cringes at the comparison to painting."I can't be a painter. I can't paint," he insists, running his hand through thick dark hair. If viewers mistake his work for a painting, then he says he isn't doing his job.If, however, he can make them wonder a moment, scratch their heads about what they're looking at before realization dawns, then he has succeeded.In addition to corners, Cohen shoots ordinary objects in extraordinary ways: a drain resembles a navel against white porcelain skin; a roof becomes abstract filling the frame with its different angles and planes. Some of these will be in the show at NAGA.Ultimately, everything Cohen photographs is recognizable, and the rewards come in following his diverting and beautiful pathway to the things we take for granted.Through March 3 "Sacred Spaces," at the Starr Gallery, Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center, 333 Nahanton St. Newton. 617-558-6485..May 3-25 Gallery NAGA, 67 Newbury St., Boston. 617-267-9060.June 2-Sept. 8 Fuller Museum of Art, 455 Oak St., Brockton. 508-588-6000.

Kelly Kaczynski
Her own landscape

When Kelly Kaczynski graduated from Evergreen State College in Washington seven years ago with a degree in sculpture and public art, she decided to come to Boston - not because of its notorious paucity of public art, but because "it's a city that was on the coast and bigger than Seattle." Not too much bigger, though. "I could have gone to New York, but I get overwhelmed at Costco."

Kaczynski, who is 28, was also drawn by the way past and present intermingle in Boston. "I'm not a history buff, but I like the building of layers in the city."

She and her partner, artist Scott Tiede, 31, will tackle the many layers of Boston's history in "A (long) Freedom," a project sponsored by the Boston National Historic Park and the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Kaczynski appears both eager and a little shy as she brews herbal tea in the Allston studio she shares with Tiede. "Look at the Freedom Trail," she says. "It's a red line. An abstract idea. Not an actual journey in history, but it becomes the physical embodiment of history and an extended landscape."

The duo plan to install a podium on Boston Common, so visitors "can feel the power of speech," Kaczynski says. Near the Old State House, they'll gild the cracks in the sidewalk and on a traffic island install ceremic birds. The birds will "be the anthropomorphic characterization of the five men killed at the Boston Massacre," she explains. "I'm interested in space, and how something fits its environment, and how people interact with it."

Kaczynski installed "Minotaur's Maze" in the lobby of the Boston Public Library in 1999, with see-through panels and interactive elements that challenged visitors to experience a familiar space in a new way. Last fall, she and Tiede erected "Pass" in Joseph Moakley Park in South Boston. They placed soccer-ball-size spheres with telescopes and viewfinders throughout the park. Some focused the eye on a playing field across the way; some contained tiny illuminated dioramas. The spheres themselves symbolized the sports played at the park.

As she makes her name as a public artist, Kaczynski continues to sculpt and make indoor work. She's pursuing an MFA at Bard College, spending weeks there every summer sculpting. That's where she develops installations like "Untitled (uncanny)," displayed at last year's DeCordova Annual. The piece filled a room wit latex bubbles and small square structures that spilled over the floor and climbed the wall. A sculpture of a dead deer on its side riveted attention.

"Untitled (uncanny)" looked at landscape anew - a goal Kaczynski has in many of her projects. "It was this abstracted landscape, with a literal element that implies narrative that is not specific," says Kaczynski. "So everybody has their own reaction."

She's particularly excited about her work in ink wash and collage that's part of the ongoing Drawing Project at Bernard Toale Gallery. She does abstracts, with representational elements. "It's so hard to work on these huge things, and think about how to make a living," she says. "It's important to make things people can collect."

Ongoing The Boston Drawing Project, Bernard Toale Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., Boston. 617-482-4277. May 7-Oct. 14 "A (long) Freedom," the Freedom Trail.

Joseph Wardwell
Rock art

Call Joe Wardwell a rock artist.

He grew up in Seattle, immersed in the grunge scene, observing the impact the bands had on the culture and community. He wanted to capture the infectious spirit of Seattle's music scene on canvas. To do so, he went East, earning a master's program at Boston University.

Wardwell, 30, hit his stride a year ago when he scrapped traditional canvases for the more curvilinear outline of a guitar.

"I wanted more rock 'n' roll feeling in the work," he says. "And the answer was excruciatingly stupid: I'll make it a guitar."

He started painting on shaped panels, and discovered that they liberated him in some ways, and presented problems in others. "The shape becomes a metaphor for the body," Wardwell explains. Some panels depicted exaggerated female forms; that work was displayed in an exhibit called "Adults Only" at HallSpace, an alternative gallery in Roxbury.

Concerned that he was becoming too identified with these voluptuously feminine guitars, Wardwell started painting and drawing portraits. He studied Rococo painters like Tiepolo and Jean-Honore Fragonard. He found an 18th-century depiction of St. John, with his mouth open in passionate speech, and drew that on a guitar shape. He put a mike in John's hands, and turned the saint into a rock star. "It's Black Sabbath," Wardwell says. "Early Ozzy."

Then he did a painting based on an 18th-century pastoral by Fragonard that shows aristocrats at a picnic surrounded by dreamlike lush vegetaton. Wardwell's version is as meticulously executed as the original, but infused with contemporary references. Wearing T-shirts and drinking beer, the people gathered beneath the trees look like they're at a rock concert.

"Look at who goes to see art, and who goes to see music," Wardwell says. "There's an accessiblity to music. Getting from artist to audience is quick."

Ongoing The Boston Drawing Project, Bernard Toale Gallery. May 16-Sept. 15 The Boston Drawing Project Exhibition, Danforth Museum, 123 Union Ave., Framingham. 508-620-0050.

Amy Ross

Amy Ross's paintings of animals, and most recently of small children with the heads of animals, are an unsettling mix of pathos and tongue-in-cheek humor. They're depicted against a background of stripes, painted with Martha Stewart-brand latex paint.

Ross traces the origin of her work back to elementary school. "A girl I went to school with was scapegoated, and she wore stripes and plaid all the time." The painter has a master's from Harvard Divinity School, where she studied scapegoats. But it's only since she's been painting her black-and-white goats against the stylish backgrounds that she's learned about the significance of stripes. "I read `The Devil's Cloth,' a history of the stripe," Ross says, "and it turns out that throughout history stripes have symbolized scapegoats. Think of jail stripes, jail bars. Uniforms Jews wore in the Holocaust. You see them in medieval illuminated manuscripts - people being stoned wore stripes."

As the uber-hostess, consider Martha Stewart the antithesis of a scapegoat or the outsider. She represents the in-crowd without whom the scapegoat would not exist.

Ross's star has been on the rise since her first exhibition at the Bromfield Art Gallery last spring. Randi Hopkins and Beth Kantrowitz at Allston Skirt Gallery liked what they saw and brought her in to paint stripes on the walls for a show that just closed. She'll follow that up with an exhibit of new drawings next month at Emmanuel College.

In the meantime, as she paints goats' heads on toddlers' bodies, she's expecting her first baby in July. She's pleased with where her career is going. Does she consider herself an emerging artist? She smiles and looks at her belly. "I'm emerging in many ways."

Feb. 27-April 5. Lillian Immig Gallery, Emmanuel College, Cardinal Cushing Library, 2d floor, 400 The Fenway, Boston. 617-735-9992.

Lalla Assia Essaydi
Forbidden things

If you think that 42-year-old Lalla Assia Essaydi really should be thought of as a mid-career artist, consider this: Essaydi grew up in Morocco, in a conservative family. She married at 16 and moved to Saudi Arabia. She came to Boston six years ago to be with her son and daughter, when they both were accepted by area colleges. As a bonus, Essaydi was able to attend college herself, pursuing her life-long passion for art at the Museum School. It was there that she finally felt free to paint and photograph what interested her: the subjugation of Muslim women.

Essaydi, who expects to earn her master's next year, is already a sophisticated artist, addressing a hot-button issue from a personal perspective. She's ripe for major attention, and she's starting to get it. She just won a fellowship from the International Photography Institute's National Graduate Seminar, and she's had shows in Chicago and Minneapolis.

Essaydi says her painting wasn't taken seriously in Morocco and Saudi Arabia. "It was all right to paint flowers," she says. "Painting and photography was considered frivolous. Decorative. It was associated with women."

So Essaydi painted flowers. But she also painted other things, forbidden things, depicting her own experience behind the veil.

"Sometimes the painting itself would not be shown to family and friends. I had read about Picasso, who painted `Les demoiselles d'Avignon' and hid it for two years." The painting is a brutal, angular depiction of prostitutes. He may have held off exhibiting it because he wasn't emotionally ready or because he felt that the world at the turn of the century was not prepared to see women portrayed with such Cubist ferocity.

Essaydi's photos feature nude women, covered with Arabic text, posing amid the decorative elements of Essaydi's family's summer home in Morocco. The text praises the house's owner for his aesthetic taste; in effect, it becomes another kind of veil, marking these women as part of the decoration. Yet to show a nude woman in the context of a society that covers women from head to toe sends a charged message: Each nude - individual, vulnerable, classically beautiful - cries out the power of her femininity and sexuality.

For Essaydi, school has been liberating and safe. "At school, I can do this work. I'm not in a museum yet. It could be dangerous for me." Even now, as Essaydi enjoys increasing recognition, she faces the prospect of her family and estranged husband demanding that she give up her life as an artist.

She wouldn't be photographed for this story because she would have had to cloak herself. To wear her typical jeans and sweater would risk the wrath of her family.

Essaydi still returns to the Middle East and even makes art there: her photos were taken at a family home in Morocco. But her future as an artist lies in the United States.

"I cannot live without making art," she says. "I cannot return to hiding things."

Through April 5 "Input/Output," Lillian Immig Gallery, Emmanuel College, 400 The Fenway, Boston. 617-735-9992.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Co.

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