Cinders, Outrageous Look & Momenta Art
By Matt Hampton
The Cinders Gallery at 103 Havermeyer between Hope and Grand Streets feels like it might be an old record store or the hollowed out remains of a once-diminutive American Apparel.
The space is packed too tightly and a great deal of material suffocates during the “Dirty Hands” exhibition that already closed.
The artists of “Dirty Hands” are all printmaking specialists, plying their imprecise craft over etchings, tracings or out-and-out drawing. Cinders uses the tiny space as well as they can manage, emphasizing the stronger pieces while using weaker ones to glue it all together. Sadly, it is a traffic jam, and it’s hard to give each piece the space it really requires. At over 30 individual artists, those dirty hands maybe should have been used to cut a few names off the docket.
A particular standout from “Dirty Hands,” however, is Kellie Bowman, whose drawings of patently similar, plain women bearing the weight of homemaker expectations represent a strong, albeit familiar message about the traditional female role in society.
Bowman’s women wear their homes like weighty crowns, isolated with their thoughts by a lack of any notable surroundings. They appear on the page as though they were animation cells, and the very action-oriented figures suggest the same. Simple lines and color patterns give each piece a clean look without feeling antiseptic. www.cindersgallery.com
Outrageous Look at 103 Broadway, a gallery that has garnered accolades in the Village Voice for being “consistently exciting” has a by-and-large disappointing show on display through the middle of January, by Detroit-born artist Dennis Kaiser.
In the press release for Kaiser’s show, “The idea that things happen only once used to bother me,” Kaiser’s work is described thusly:
“[It] is what it is, in the good kind of way,” the work is also likened to “hitting a vein in rich soil.”
While Outrageous Look displays the material ably, bunching it to just the right degree without alarming the eye as Cinders does; the subjects of Kaiser’s work are either crowded within themselves or, the opposite extreme, so devoid of content as to be nearly pointless.
Oils, glue melts and crayons on canvas abound, but no single piece strikes a chord so fervently that it feels like expertise.www.outrageouslook.com
Finally, Momenta Art, just around the corner and under the bridge at 269 Bedford, is showing a collection of photography and video installations that chronicle the stiff realities of city life. The architecture photography is at its best when it’s playing with other considerations, as is the case with Dennis Sears Paranoia Series; photographs of modern landmarks paired with historical accounts of Red Scare events that occurred some 80 years before the photos were taken.
The camera work is almost second to the well-crafted, unassuming descriptions of the sometimes-shocking nationwide events that have long since been forgotten.
The literal centerpiece of the show is Caitlin Masley’s untitled portable stands, representing apartment complexes and high-rise buildings in Singapore and Chicago. Art becomes the viewer as the pieces themselves can be pushed around the floor of the gallery, and while the fun of it might be undermining its message (decrying overcrowded, homogenized housing) it’s fun nonetheless. www.momentaart.org
A Graphic Novel for the Williamsburg Soul
Gabrielle Bell’s Lucky
By Cathy Erway
Gabrielle Bell has had it with herself: her five roommates, her lack of permanent employment, her drawings, her relationships, her lack of knowing how to use the scanner at the internet garage, and darn it, everything. But the next day, life is looking pretty good. For all the same reasons.
A graphic novel about life in Brooklyn through the lens of seemingly perpetual PMS, Lucky is Bell’s opus to the everyday of the young struggling artist. In 2003, Bell moved to Williamsburg and began sketching a comic strip diary of her life. While moving from one apartment to the next, juggling freelance illustration assignments, and making the brunt of her rent payment from nude artist modeling and other odd jobs such as jewelry assembly and teaching drawing lessons to rich, precocious children, Bell kept a detailed account of each day. The third installment of the self-published comic series that came out of her graphic diary, Lucky, went on to win an Ignatz comic book award, and this past fall, Drawn & Quarterly published the compilation of the four-comic series in hardcover, also titled, Lucky.
With a blunt self-consciousness that often turns hilarious, Bell etches out a year’s worth of minor events: seeing mediocre improv comedy, selling comics on Bedford Ave., attending a yoga class, being obsessed with anything French, picnics in McCarren Park where little is said. Bell’s straightforward graphic style captures the look and feel of Williamsburg and Greenpoint among her community of artistic friends, lonely streets and barely-legal housing situations, and mimics her deadpan storytelling.
When asked why she began the Lucky series shortly after moving to the neighborhood, Bell explains: “I'd been keeping a comic diary on and off through the years, but it was never very interesting unless my life was in some kind of flux or upheaval. It's then that I'll begin to look at things and listen to people.” Throughout Lucky Bell depicts everything from the jabberings of people on the street, interiors of coffee shops on Bedford Ave., and the solace of taking in a clear view of Manhattan from her black tar rooftop while huddling underneath a laundry exhaust pipe that blasts warm steam in the winter.
Born in England and raised in Michigan and California, Bell feels lucky to have moved to New York. No stranger to messy loft apartment share situations, Bell has endured cats who whine at her door, roommates who want nothing to do with one another, bugs, no cell phone reception except on the roof, and bad decorating. But to Bell, who still resides in Greenpoint, “the advantage of living in New York is not that of making connections or meeting the ‘right’ people, but of being surrounded by creative and challenging artists. If you are doing something interesting then people want to know you.”
At its most introspective moments, Lucky transcends the mundane, everyday existence of the artist in lofty dream sequences that catapult Bell to success, respect, and yes, good luck. And it’s about time they were realized.
Gabrielle Bell’s previously published comics include the collection When I’m Old and Other Stories published by Alternative Press, and the self-published comic books, Book of Insomnia, Book of Sleep, Book of Black, and Book of Lies. Her comics have appeared in magazines such as Stereoscomic, Bogus Dead, Orchid, Shout! Magazine, and Drawn and Quarterly Showcase and has published comics online at www.serializer.net. She looks forward to beginning another Lucky series and keep writing fictional comics.
Buy a copy of Lucky at www.drawnandquarterly.com, or at select book stores.