As I have done for the past several years, my first stop in the Catskill region is to the home and studio of Tom Gottsleben. Whether it is his free-standing sculpture, his earth works, or his home, Gottsleben blends the natural with the man made in ways akin to the timeless approach I experienced earlier this year in the ancient art forms of South Korea. With Modernist tendencies at his core, Gottsleben holds nature, geometry and the spiritual as equal partners - a fact that is easily found in his sculptures of metal, stone and glass. These works are built from powerful shapes, forms and concepts, and settle somewhere between the physical and the ideal (as in "Chrysalis," left). They are potent gestures that represent thought in a way that is concrete while still leaving room for expansion and extrapolation in the hearts and minds of the artist and the viewer. In recent years, Gottsleben has worked with colored glass as one primary element adding a new way to view the nature of things - and there is a peacefulness to it all, which comes from the blending in of the essence of nature in all he does.
After a half day of viewing and discussing with Gottsleben, his art and ideas, I took a drive into the heart of the Woodstock business district. My first stop was a photography exhibition at Galerie BMG. For the most part, the photography offered here is of the safe variety, with standouts Joni Sternback and Patrick Tebema being the most contemporary offerings. A block or so away is Harry Roseman's "Woven Walls" drawing, which is painted directly on the walls of the gallery of The Kleinert/James Arts Center. It looks very much like a cross between a Sol Lewitt wall drawing and automatic writing which lead me to thoughts of textiles and agriculture. Two doors down is The Woodstock Artists Association and Museum, where you can always find a number of group and solo shows. Here, I enjoy most perusing the back room where you will find historic shows of artists who have lived in the area at some point in time. This time around there were wonderful examples of many important artist's works such as George C. Ault, George Bellows, Philip Guston, Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Doris Lee in a show called "Recent Acquisitions to the Permanent Collection."
The exhibition at the Center for Photography at Woodstock is titled "The Camera Always Lies" which is a Regional Triennial of the Photographic Arts curated by the esteemed writer, critic and historian Beth E. Wilson. I was very pleased to see in her selections one of my favorite photographers, Susan Wides. I have come to know Wides's art through my visits to Kim Foster Gallery in Chelsea, and I am always happy to see what she is up to. Here, Wides offers c-prints where she takes a large format camera and bends the bellows to create a depth of field and a focus that makes reality look unreal (right), sort of like the way a short-focused close-up photograph might look like if one were taken of a scale model, inhabited landscape of an elaborately designed toy train set. I also very much enjoyed the work of Rob Penner, who does what looks like spot-lighted dusk or dawn shots of well weathered, lone samples of debris on grass or sand. John Dugdale cleverly blends in his throwback albumen prints, gelatine chloride prints and cyanotype gently stated homoerotic art that has a Victorian aesthetic. I also liked the proportions, placements, views, and juxtapositions in the works of Julianne Swartz and Rob Penner. Jaanika Peerna's "Shoreline" dvd/video showed reflected in the hood of a car, an upside down world made less frantic, albeit distorted and disorienting by way of a day-dreamy viewpoint. Overall, an excellent show that is thoughtful and memorable.
The following day, I stopped in to see the local collection of the photographs of Elliot Landy. These works, housed in an unnamed gallery across the street from the hippy-dippy shop named Legends, include iconic, vintage images of The Band, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and of course Bob Dylan.
Further down from the center of town on Tinker Street is Varga Gallery, owned and operated by Christina Varga, who marches to the beat of a unique drummer. Right now, they have a show of this area's outsider art curated by local artist Mike Heinrich called "Mike Heinrich and Friends." Here I found a number of compelling works and a gallerist, Christina Varga, who, after five years of plugging away, has managed to maintain her passion to show bold art. Varga herself, is an accomplished artist who most recently has been asked to install one large triptych in a show at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. "Mike Heinrich and Friends" has quite a few works featuring more than a few standouts. Lenny Kislin's "Two Squared," a fun rendition of numbers and geometry, shows how color can amplify depth. Don Denarie's "Artist with Wife" is a strong work that shows the import of the model as muse. Tim Slowinski, as he often does, turns the most innocent act into something intensely strange in "Doughman Eating Pastry" (left), while Mike Heinrich offers the Neo-Expressionist style painting "Offering," and the Tramp Art style assemblage "Pilgrim Spirit."
My last stop for this trip was the Elena Zang Gallery, the best place to see the region's most recognized living artists. As it was this time, it is not unusual to find one or more stellar multi-layered prints by art star Judy Pfaff, or a narrative mixed media work or sculpture by the well known Mary Frank here. There are also a number of very important works on display outside the gallery in the surrounding environs by the aforementioned Tom Gottsleben, Alan Siegel, and Joy Brown that alone are worth the visit.
The art scene in Woodstock - check it out the next time you are there. - D. Dominick Lombardi
D. Dominick Lombardi is an artist with representation in Kasia Kay Art Projects and in Chicago, Van Brunt Gallery in Beacon, NY, and ADA gallery in Richmond, VA; a writer with Sculpture, Sculpture Review, DART, and NYARTS; and an independent curator.