Ross Teachers Show Their Own Work at MM in Southampton
That old adage “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” has never really worked for artists. From the guilds to the academy to present-day art schools, artists have provided extra support for themselves and enriched their practices by sharing ideas and skills in the classroom and among their apprentices.
The New York City region has schools full of faculty who show regularly and can be said to have successful careers by way of their own output as well as in nurturing the artistic DNA of their students. This is true on the undergraduate and postgraduate level as well as in the better secondary schools, and the Ross School in East Hampton is no exception.
While many of the faculty members show regularly here and elsewhere, their work is rarely presented as a group in the world outside the campus. MM Fine Art in Southampton, which has shown some of the Ross artists in solo shows, has brought them all together in their latest show, on view through Saturday.
Jennifer Cross and Ned Smyth were recently reviewed in these pages, so the focus falls on Christopher Engel, Lutha Leahy-Miller, Alexis Martino, Jon Mulhern, Kieran Ryan, Christina Schlesinger, and Sherry Williams.
Mr. Engel has said in his artist statements that his work, inspired by Carl Jung, “attempts to capture images of the archetypical origins of myth and to draw the viewer into a connection and communication with ancient spirits, the metaphysical, the sacred, the holy, and the transcendent.” His subjects are these archetypes and the idea that we are only on the earth momentarily, but contribute to a whole that encompasses past, present, and future.
The exhibition includes one of his heroes of myth in “Shine Shrine,” an unusually large work on paper, measuring roughly 6 by 4 feet. The typically blockish figure is set close to the picture frame with an expressionistic use of color in a nonspecific background filled with signs and symbols. A fully abstract work, “Through the Lines,” is another large-scale drawing, with linear marks in the form of blips, V’s, and X’s, and C’s in blues, gold, white, and black. They have a visual echo of Jasper Johns’s crosshatched drawings if their lines broke apart and started morphing.
Mr. Leahy-Miller’s three small skull drawings on paper were executed in ink, pen, and brush on paper. Their familiarity likely stems from the popularity of the motif in historical, contemporary, and commercial art, including series by Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol. They are also weighted with meaning: mortality, the spiritual world, knowledge, etc. In this case, he is referring to Tibetan Buddhism and its philosophy of impermanence. As skull subjects go, he has chosen an exuberant approach with life-affirming color schemes and quick strokes of lines radiating off the form, suggesting vitality or at least dynamism.
The black-and-white camera work of Ms. Martino uses light dramatically to create an intensity of mood and focus. The figure in “Masai Mara, Kenya” is backlit by the glow of the sky. Smoke or steam comes from an object he holds in his cupped hands, which also creates a contrast of tone. “Starting a Fire” is focused on the fire in the foreground with a high gathering of kindling and a dancing flame set in front of a figure whose features and shape are only barely discernible.
Another artist the gallery has previously shown is Mr. Mulhern. He characterizes his work as a mix of street art and traditional painting, with an emphasis on the sublime in his references to landscape, calligraphy, abstraction, and expressionism. “Scurry Delight” can look like a cloud burst, an aerial view of a landscape, a peacock, or pure abstraction. The use of color, emerald and peridot green with peeks of sky and royal blues shot through with white and highlighted with red, is proficient and powerful. In a much more subdued work, “American Renaissance Series: The Great Hudson,” the landscape feels Arcadian — quiet and untouched.
A Sag Harbor resident, Mr. Ryan packs a lot of media into his easel-size works. There are various digital prints, paint, ink, pen, collage, and spray paint in a work like “Cautionary.” The focus is on mechanical forms in his imagery, but they are broken apart and taken away from their defining context. The result is a layered composition that has as much content as mediums. With a nod to the improvisation of street art and the clean edges of mass manufacture and engineering, his work is recognizable as Graffuturism, a somewhat recent trend in art making.
The mixed-media works of Ms. Schlesinger and Ms. Williams are not
hanging together, but they share enough in the way of affinities that one’s eyes connect them from across the room. Both artists’ works are oriented horizontally and use stripes or layers of color to suggest landscapes or other settings or forms. Each seems to prefer a rich use of color as well. Ms. Schlesinger layers her materials on panel, which gives them a certain “objectness.” Ms. Williams has a clear and pronounced preference for the color pink in a series she calls “The Perfect Pink Storm.” The color bathes her house in Montauk when the sun rises over the ocean.
The artists here come to their practice from different backgrounds, educations, and life experiences, yet they have in common a similar landscape and local tradition that imbue their work with the same history all artists on the East End share.