Friday, July 17, 2009

Marek Bennett’s “Breakfast at Mimi’s”

It’s rare to find mainstream newspaper comic strips with as much emotional honesty as Marek Bennett’s “Breakfast at Mimi’s,” the Henniker, New Hampshire, cartoonist’s new book collecting the first two and a half years of his weekly newspaper strips “Mimi’s Doughnuts.” The comics, which have appeared in the Keene (NH) Sentinel since October 2003 and subsequently in Vermont’s Valley News, Rutland Herald, Brattelboro Commons, tell of Shayna and her two step-siblings growing up in a loving, hardworking family after her parents divorced. The story begins with her mom and step-dad buying a doughnut shop vaguely set in a fictionalized blend of several New Hampshire towns (Claremont, Walpole, Marlow, Henniker). The shop serves as a major setting for the strip, but Bennett smartly has it play a backseat to his sweet, melancholy, funny tales.

Bennett’s drawing is good, a sort of loose newspaper strip traditional. But he shines with his deft command of narrative, knowing how to pack a lot of story into a tight space, knowing the right moment to end a tale. Readers may recognize some of the whimsy of Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” and the gritty life of Lynda Barry, with a dollop of familiar newspaper strip schmaltz.

When Shayna inevitably runs into problems dying her hair, the narrator says: “One thing about hair dye though: / You can’t make it better just by cutting it off. / In fact, it just gets worse… and worse ….” Her kid brother and sister watch. “Think she’s going to shave it?” “Let’s go hide all the hats!”

The stories are inspired by Bennnett’s wife Denise’s childhood in Claremont, and revolve around scary dogs, head lice, scary dark cellars, adolescent dating, divorce, a grandfather dying, shoplifting, domestic abuse, and New England woodland disappearing under expanding housing and shopping developments. Listing his subjects off like this can make it sound like a cheesy after-school special, which the strip is not. “Breakfast at Mimi’s” is simultaneously lighter, funnier and more pointed than that.

Bennett’s balance of emotional truth and schmaltzy humor is evident when Shayna’s mostly absent father shows up to take her out for an awkward dinner. “Look, Shayna – I know I haven’t been the world’s best dad. Been kinda … not always there for ya …,” her father says. “But you know that. / Anyhow, now you’re turning fourteen. And I want ya to know that I’m proud of ya. / and I’m sorry too. For the dad thing.” He pauses, before adding, “And I wanna make up for all these lost years.” Shayna replies with the final line of the strip, “I’m turning fifteen, you know.”

Thursday, July 16, 2009

C.W. Roelle

From my review of C.W. Roelle’s "Not Just Women In White Dresses" at AS220:
Every artist aims to develop a trademark look. Most carve out an individual style within the usual tried and true playing field — a certain way with paint, a certain slant to their photos — but C.W. Roelle has accomplished the rare feat of staking out his territory off these beaten paths.

He creates astonishingly three-dimensional scenes by turning simple black wire into something resembling pen drawings floating in thin air. He lures you in with his subjects, usually curious Victorian-looking dreams — like his ornate six-foot-tall portrait of a pair of seated ladies in long flowing dresses with a couple dancing behind them that was exhibited in the "NetWorks 2008" show at the Newport Art Museum last winter. But his ultimate subject may be the nature of three-dimensional space itself.

"Not Just Women In White Dresses," Roelle's show at AS220's Project Space, is his most accomplished and bewitching yet.
Read the rest here.

C.W. Roelle, "Not Just Women In White Dresses," AS220's Project Space, 93 Mathewson Street, Providence, July 8 to 27, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: C.W. Roelle, “How to Enjoy the Paper,” “The Flock Cage,” “Small Mini Bridge” and “Large Mini Bridge,” “Two Birds Talking,” “Winter to Spring 1977,” “Penance for an Education,” “Oops, sorry, This isn’t Right at All,” “Dead Pelican” and “’Aahhh, There You Are, Ready to Go?’ ‘Yes, Just About.’” All wire with spraypaint.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“Nature/Artifice” at the RISD Museum

From my review of “Nature/Artifice” at the RISD Museum:
"Nature/Artifice" feels summery, but it's not like lite beach reading. I think it has to do with the one-room show's crisp, fresh feel and the platform full of flip-flops.

Tony Capellan's “Mar Caribe (Caribbean Sea)” (1996) aims to suggest the difficulty of life in his native Dominican Republic by collecting hundreds of sea blue and green flip-flops that washed up along the banks of the Ozama River in the Santo Domingo. He carefully arranges the foam sandals so they all face the same direction, suggesting fish scales or waves. Then it gives you a shiver when you notice that the toe straps have been replaced with barbed wire. You can feel it biting between your toes.

The show's title suggests a rumination on natural versus artificial, but mostly it's a broad name that allows RISD contemporary art curator Judith Tannenbaum to pull out a loosely linked grab bag of 13 works from the museum's collection, mostly recent acquisitions that have not been shown here before. There are some international stars (Damien Hirst, Joseph Beuys, Christian Marclay) and some local talent. With the RISD Museum scheduled to close during August to save money during our Not-So-Great Depression, perhaps now is the time to check out what you'll be missing.
Read the rest here.

“Nature/Artifice,” RISD Museum, 224 Benefit St., Providence, April 25, 2009, through February 2010.

Pictured from top to bottom: Tony Capellan, “Mar Caribe (Caribbean Sea)” (1996); Duane Slick, “Oration at Dawn,” 2005, © Duane Slick; Sue McNally, “Kings Beach, 2007,” ©Sue McNally; Joseph Beuys, “Capri Battery (Capri-Batterie),” 1985. © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn; Jeanne Silverthorne, “Dry Mouth,” 2003. © The Artist, courtesy McKee Gallery; Paul Morrison, “Rhizophore,” 2006, ©Paul Morrison, courtesy Cheim and Read, New York, and Alison Jacques Gallery, London.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Salomone’s Jell-O shots portrait of Bill Cosby

Also his Amy Winehouse tattoos sweater

Andrew Salomone of Dover, New Hampshire, celebrated Bill Cosby’s 72nd birthday Sunday by creating a likeness of the comedian and longtime Jell-O pitchman out of 746 Jell-O shots at Buoy Gallery in Kittery, Maine.

“I'm always sort of interested to see what happens when I create a physical manifestation of some of the associations that we all have in our heads,” Salomone tells The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. “So for the ‘Jell-O Head’ project, I only became interested in actually making the work when I realized that Buoy Gallery was going to be empty on Bill Cosby's birthday and that the project would function as a social event.”

It’s a goof, but a lovely goof. And it is one more wacky result of artists’ fascination with pixel-built images in our ever more digital age. Another recent example: the Obama portrait that elementary students in Westfield, Massachusetts, made from 2,420 dominoes.

“In the end the project came out better than I could have imagined because of the way that the participants in the show just spontaneously started moving the Jell-O shots around and making their own imagery out of the Jell-O shots,” Salomone writes. You can see an examples in the photos here and the video slideshow.
“It was sort of amazing to watch it happen because there was no discussion or anything. I was just expecting people to start timidly taking a few shots but instead several people made their own alterations that completely changed the image throughout the night. It was really dramatic visually because the image of the portrait was projected on the wall of the gallery, so the table cloth looked liked like a canvas and the Jell-O shots became a sort of morphing painting. The people who came to the show basically made the project better than anything I could hope to do.”

And this may not even be Salomone most awesome recent project. Not long ago, he embroidered a white sweater with all of Amy Winehouse’s tattoos in all the anatomically right places. (At least this seems to be a real sweater; I’ve not seen it in person.) It’s wicked and funny and endearing all at once. He says he was inspired to make it because he heard that Winehouse was having health problems and yet was always wearing skimpy clothing, seemingly to show off her tattoos.

“I realized that if someone were to make her a sweater that displayed her tattoos to the world without exposing her to the elements," Salmone writes at his blog, "then maybe some of her health problems would go away. At the very least it might prevent her from getting a cold.”

“It only makes sense that Amy should have this sweater,” he says. “If anyone has any idea how to make that happen please let me know.”

Monday, July 13, 2009

“Salt of the Earth” at Montserrat

From my review of “Salt of the Earth” at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts:
Montserrat College of Art in Beverly rounds up its own summer survey by inviting each of seven local curators to pick one artist who (loosely) fits the show's title, "Salt of the Earth." Montserrat assistant curator Shana Dumont chose David Curcio of Watertown, who combines folksy 19th-century imagery with etching, woodcut, pencil, paint, and stitched thread for a charmingly old-time handmade goth look. “100,000 Fish Caught in Two Tides” shows a steepled red mill or church building sprouting the floating heads of a family tree. Four birds, like time-lapse photos, flap away to freedom. The scene is surrounded by a border of winding leafy branches plus vignettes of birds, buildings, and a dour woman. Curcio's work doesn't feel deep, but it's catchy.

Camilo Alvarez picked a sculpture duo from his Samson Projects gallery, Alexi Antoniadis of Newtonville and Nico Stone of Chelsea. Their stuff distills the saddest bits of urban garbage and decay in an off-kilter mix of minimalism and the au courant "scatter trash" style.
Read the rest here.

By the bye: If Montserrat continues this exhibition series, it may be wise to restrict curators from picking artists they represent or that are their coworkers. This show leaves itself open to charges of nepotism as the commercial gallery curators here pick artists from their gallery stables and Jose Luis Blondet of the Boston Center for the Arts picks that institution’s gallery manager. Not that these picks themselves are bad, they’re actually on the whole good to great.

“Salt of the Earth,” Montserrat College of Art, 23 Essex St., Beverly, June 5 to July 24, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: David Curcio, “Happy House,” 2007, drypoint, etching, woodcut, acrylic and stitching; David Curcio, David Curcio, “100,000 Fish Caught in Two Tides,” 2008 etching with woodcut, acrylic and stitching; “Ursa Minor,” 2008, etching, woodcut and embroidery; David Curcio of Watertown, “My Grief is a River,” 2009 etching, drypoint, woodcut, colored pencil and stitching; Alexi Antoniadis of Newtonville and Nico Stone of Chelsea, untitled installation, 2009, mixed media; Deb Todd Wheeler of Newton, “Worktable & Wallflower,” 2009, 2008, mixed media installation; Deb Todd Wheeler, “Topsy” 84” x 5” x 48” floral foam 2009; Nate McDermott of Brighton, untitled, oil on canvas, 2009; Lorna Williams of New Haven, Conn., “Untitled (Hurricane),” 2009, mixed media on wood; and Patricia Tinajero of Knoxville, Tenn., “Where miracles happen,” 2009, video installation with recycled VHS tapes, metal frames, fabric and lights, dimensions variable.