February 9, 2011 through May 22, 2011
Opening Reception Friday, Feb 11, 6-8pm
David Loeffler Smith Retrospective
Kate Levin & Don Beal, Curators
Vault Series: Susanna Coffey
Joan Backes, Curator
Paintings of Finn Gudmunddsson –
A New Bedford Primitive
Severin Haines, Curator
Artists Collecting Artists
The Collection of Charles & Susan Hauck
Louie Doherty, Curator
David Loeffler Smith Retrospective
Co-Curator Statement - Kate Levin
It is a great pleasure to be able to present the exhibition, "David Loeffler Smith Retrospective", at the New Bedford Art Museum. As a much loved teacher at the former Swain School of Design, and as a painter of real strength and integrity, he has made a profound and lasting mark on the arts of the region and beyond. Though a man of quiet, thoughtful mien, the importance of his contribution of more than 50 years of teaching and painting looms large.
From 1962 to 1988, David Loeffler Smith headed the painting department of the Swain School of Design in New Bedford, and was key in shaping Swain into a school of national importance. He was a teacher and mentor of great influence to many of his students, not unlike his own teacher Hans Hofmann. Now in his late maturity, Smith's paintings are accessible abstractions, and though richly complex, are without any extraneous elements. Within the borders of these small paintings, he creates a balance of movement with relatively short strokes that sweeps you into ever-changing dreamlike moments with each new encounter. The musicality of Smith's swirling colors and his distinctive brushwork produce images of myths, landscape, and everyday life that invite the viewer to soften their focus, relax the mind, and set out on a journey with an accomplished story teller.
Co-Curator Statement - Donald Beal
All of my teachers were very good at what they did, and several were key in shaping me into the painter I was to become. Echoes of what I learned from them inform the way I teach and paint today, and none with more resonance than those of David Loefffler Smith. David's strengths as a teacher and mentor come directly from his life as a painter. His paintings are an eclectic stew of abstract expressionism, surrealism, underground comics, pop culture, Greek mythology, and the great Tintoretto. An uncorked stream of consciousness in collaboration with a profound understanding and love for all things visual guides these pictures to strange and wonderful places.
His paintings can be tragic, but are often funny. In particular, I remember a series entitled "Inside the Trojan Horse" depicting Greek soldiers, with their spears, helmets, and shields, piled awkwardly on top of one another in the dark and claustrophobic interior of the wooden horse. Other paintings depict his anxiety about driving a car; firemen fighting a blazing building; or the goofy charm of a child's bedroom cluttered with toys. There are paintings of Santa Claus, bible stories, a neighbor fixing his car, landscapes remembered, landscapes observed, workers loading a moving van with furniture, and a middle-aged couple sleeping together in bed. The common occurrences of every day life become as heroic as the great myths he so often depicts. The paintings have a wild and squirming rhythm, propelled along by a kinetic use of color that has become more powerful and unlikely over the years.
I look at these paintings and marvel at how as he's grown older his responses have grown increasingly unbridled as he pursues the diverse and far-flung embrace of the things in this world that so strongly affect him. The nuts and bolts skills that David taught us would not have meant as much without the example of his life as a painter for a backdrop. To be alive to the world we live in, and to let our instincts pursue some aspect of its nature through the rigors of the studio until it's given a voice, is perhaps his most important lesson.
Recent Statements by the Artist - David Loeffler Smith
When you asked me about my recent painting I quickly summed it up as trees and more trees that I can see from my window. I like to pose as a simple realist just painting what I see, but I know that's not quite true. I recently wrote to a friend that half my paintings are done at naptime - with my eyes half closed I cobble together images. A random bit of Chinese calligraphy can help to clarify the shape of a flower. Or I can slide from a Pollock painting to Orozco and then to a Tintoretto in trying to work out a rhythm sequence. My father described this process as backing into art history. In contrast to the landscapes there are the occasional mythological scene based on the memories of schoolday reading assignments. At best, these are excuses to deal with the figure grand and animated. What I am trying to illustrate is that with time I am becoming increasingly aware of the peculiar forms influences can take. A case in point would be a discussion I once had with a student intent on painting a fake Pollock. A spot of red I saw as a descriptive line outlining the bloody jowl of a Delacroix lion, he saw as a balancing gesture for a large glob of paint near the top of his panel We were both responding to the opposing pull of nature and abstraction.
I have not said a word about color. With my first paintings I recognized a gap between what I could see in nature and what I could achieve with paint. It was this rather than any issues in drawing that led me to think kindly about abstract painters. Once, on a visit to the Met, I came upon a gallery of Tiepolo oil studies and then a cluster of cubist paintings. Their clarity of values and tension in form were helpful to my understanding of how I could use a more formal structure. It was actually reproductions rather than the paintings which I studied. Books I could keep close and refer to repeatedly. I came to value some very bad small prints for they intensified the colors and dramatized the composition. When teaching, it was again bad reproductions rather than the museum's darkened paintings that could make clear to the students why Delacroix and later Van Gogh and Gauguin were so shocking to their contemporaries. Nor have I discussed the scale of my work. There are those who question the small format as a contradiction of my baroque compositions, no argument, but it is these same panels that allow me to cover the whole surface with each attack. Not to change the subject, but at least to shift my posture, I can recall a moment in Venice when looking at Tintoretto's Heavenly Host that I imagined them all as senior painters. After apologizing for all I had stolen from them, I cited Rembrandt's last self portrait and Degas' pastels and asked why so much of their late work was so different from their early painting — were these the lessons of old age?
Vault Series: Susanna Coffey
Curator Statement - Joan Backes
Vault Series: Susanna Coffey explores the many facets of the artist's ongoing body of work. While viewers will undoubtedly be familiar with her self-portraits, Coffey also addresses themes of war, still life and plein air landscape often painted at night. This exhibition recognizes how Coffey continually revisits traditional subjects in order to discover new meanings in her work.
Painterly and luminous, these intimately sized self-portraits address androgyny and the gendered image. They form a series in which we can see the many different appearances of just one person. Sometimes she is wearing a baseball cap, while in other canvasses she is seen just above the surface of a pond or in front of a battle. There are hats, scarves and turbans, but never do we see much of her hair. Because of this, and that the figure is only seen from the shoulders up, it is unclear which gender we are viewing. There is something mask-like about these portraits. Individuality is in question.
Coffey often uses photos from news media and from well-known paintings and projects them onto the wall behind her mirror. With this approach she is able to place the figure in these various worlds of her choosing.
Spanish painters such as Goya and Zurbaran have been major influences throughout her career. Alberto Giacometti figures strongly as well. Both his sculpture and his painting are related to her method of working. Giacometti constantly edited and scraped away a day's work, never quite satisfied with his results. Coffey also scrapes, sands, and then adds again onto her surface in her effort to make it right.
Included in this exhibition is a portrait of Coffey's father, Edwin Coffey. Along with this work is a painting of the artist seen with a backdrop of war shown through the yellow and red colors of fire. We see military fighters at the bottom of the painting and fire and explosion throughout. Mr. Coffey saw hard duty in WWII and this painter's concern with the dilemma and tragedy that is war began long before her artistic career.
Coffey grew up in the country and often returns to her Connecticut home where she can observe and embrace nature as she does in her landscape paintings. Her flower paintings are elegiac with the blossoms laid down horizontally and flat, not in a vase. This series began in her TriBeCa studio during fall 2001. They are about the passing of the beautiful, as she states, "I am trying to make beauty from beauty."
Artist Statement - Susanna Coffey
When Joan Backes, the Curator of Vault Series at The New Bedford Museum contacted me about exhibiting my paintings there, I was very interested in doing so. Your city has long held an important place in my imagination. New Bedford in the 1840's was home to two of America's most influential artists, the writer Herman Melville and the painter Albert Pinkham Ryder. Both are known for works that reveal a human consciousness that is inextricably merged with the "natural" world. According to this Transcendentalist vision each of us is bound in ongoing and dynamic interchange with the surrounding earth, water and air. I am one of many artists whose work is deeply influenced by this way of seeing, by these two sons of New Bedford. As a painter, Ryder has been an early and consistent source of inspiration. The powerful abstractness of his figurative paintings shows me that a "realistic" image is not enough. One must see how an image is placed on the rectangle of the canvas and how the paint itself appears in order to fully access an authentic iteration of that image. Melville, the writer challenged me to look closely and hard at the world and it's creatures. His ability to impart his perceptions in a clear and accessible language challenged me to do the same. More than anything, reading Melville has helped me throughout those many "dark drizzly Novembers in my soul" that are familiar to any mature artist. I am so pleased to be a part of this exhibition series.
A few words about the paintings in this exhibition: While the portraits are focused on individual faces, the landscape elements that surround the figure provide essential clues about her or his interiority. Without clouds or foliage, without a specific proportion of figure to ground, without a sense of light or dark, there could be no feeling to these figures. The night paintings also seek to evoke not only the appearance of a place but also the way it can feel to see in the dark, to be alone in it looking at the colors of night. The flower paintings are detailed and intimate arrangements of a single species. These careful arrangements of wild plants are meant to suggest a "letter from the world", a moment of formalized nature. Although the blossoms are cut and becoming dry, these paintings preserve something of their last vivid coloration and patterning.
Paintings of Finn Gudmundsson – A New Bedford Primitive
Finn Gudmundsson: A New Bedford Primitive - Severin Haines, Curator
The term "primitive" is often used to describe an artist who is self-educated, employing a simple naive style. The paintings of a "primitive" will often have a directness and clarity of purpose which is at times enviable for those artists who are more "sophisticated". The paintings of Finn Gudmundsson are a unique example of just such simplicity and directness.
In a recent discussion with my teaching colleague and fellow painter, Don Beal, I said that I envied the vitality of Finn Gudmundsson's shape-making and unabashed color and that I did not have the courage to be so direct in my own work. Don replied, "We know too much". It is true. Our education and cultural awareness will get in our way. Also, our established stylistic identities prompt us to resist such directness. We become trapped by our reputations for producing art of a certain character and sophistication.
It is in this light that I present to you the work of my late friend Finn Gudmundsson.
Forgetting critics, artists have the best eye to the value of other artists. Historically artists have always collected each other’s work. Understanding through the eye, the hand and the heart the process of creation, they are the first to recognize great art and the first to support it.
In 1941 the Villa Air-Bel in France held the greatest and most desperate of all auctions. Varian Fry, the Harvard art historian, rescued Max Ernst, Andre Breton, Marc Chagall, Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington and hundreds of other artists from Hitler. Desperately in need of money for emigration, they hung their work in the plane trees outside the villa and the collecting was on. A poignant black and white photograph shows Max Ernst hanging his work from the branches.
Susan and Chuck Hauck, two of New Bedford’s most well loved artists, have focused their collecting on the artists from the Swain School of Design. When a painter and a sculptor collect the results produce a 120 piece exhibition in the New Bedford Art Museum Heritage Gallery that defines art in New Bedford.
Chuck Hauck notes of the collection, “I started collecting art and trading with friends at Swain, but as years went by it was a way to stay connected with friends and colleagues from Gallery X, Second Street Art Exchange, etc.. I also was the person who was involved with hanging the monthly shows at Gallery X. One of the benefits of that was being able to peruse the work before any one else saw it and make offers or trades.”
He concludes by writing, “ Susan and I never really got into collecting for any reason but to share and support our friends. Much like people collect photos of loved ones, we wanted to have these art pieces as reminders of these friendships. After 20 years at Gallery X we have both made many acquaintances and every picture has a story attached. As the collection grew our wall space became more and more crowded so we were limited to collecting smaller works and hanging them salon style. Heaven forbid what the collection would look like if we weren't limited by our available wall space. We are presently at the point that every new acquisition means moving five or six other works to fit the new one in. New pieces any larger that 2 foot square can lead to a serious re-hanging of the walls, which means breaking out the ladders, screw guns, etc. and lots of swear words. Sometimes I wish I collected stamps instead.”
Written by Peggi Medeiros