Joan Bankemper, Don Eddy, Katerina Lanfranco, Hung Liu, Lynn McCarty, Joseph Raffael, Jody Uttal
From Prayers to Urns
520 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001
November 5, 2020 - January 2, 2021
For the first time in our history, we have lived through a Spring and Summer of lockdowns, mask wearing and social distancing due to the coronavirus. Our lives have changed, our patterns of social engagement have changed, and for some artists, the art that has been created during this time has changed. Impacted by the Pandemic, each of the artists in the exhibition has addressed the health crisis differently. Early on in the Pandemic, Hung Liu began a series of Prayer paintings inspired by the cave paintings at Dunhuang in China, which she visited when an art student there 50 years ago. Every 12 years during the year of the rat, the identifying year she was born, Hung Liu paints two paintings 64 x 100 inches each. This year, emblematic of the Pandemic, she painted herself in masks, one the color of linen juxtaposed with a dandelion that has one remaining seed; in the other she wears a mask made from a scarf with the American flag motif juxtaposed with a Chinese character comprised of five strokes. This character is typically used to count time. She paints the same character over and over, counting time. There is no beginning, no end to this time.
Katerina Lanfranco’s high-key color paintings, with seeds in both nature and abstraction, incorporate bits of torn fabric, yarn and synthetic flowers, which she overlays with glitter, sand, and paint. As she says, “The many layers of paint applications and diverse techniques speak to the cacophony of modern life.” Her paintings are simultaneously an abstraction of the virus’s spherical form and a celebration of life in its transformation thereof.
Don Eddy’s Silent Spring diptych was inspired by a walk down Broadway on April 5, 2020. Everything was closed, there were no people in the street. When the artist reached the end of the island he came upon a flowering magnolia tree, and an empty shuttered ferry terminal, the juxtaposition a poetic comment on the Pandemic, the lockdown, the many deaths throughout the country and especially in New York at that time. The magnolia tree appeared like a symbol of hope. Spring was presenting itself in spite of the virus.
Joan Bankemper began a series of urns shortly after the Pandemic began. Having made commemorative urns during the AIDS crisis, the artist seemed to have no choice but to continue that impulse and create what she calls funereal urns, hand coiled pots filled with forget-me-knots and bees. While the urns are not dedicated to any specific person, they are imbued with both the sadness and death of the times as well as symbols of life as manifest in the proliferation of bees. The flowers the artist hand-builds to bedeck the urns speak for themselves: forget-me-knot, or “forget-me not” when I am gone.
Joseph Raffael’s Elegy series is a tone poem to a loved one after death. The artist focuses in on a single flower, a central subject and surrounds each bloom with one color. Magnified in scale, with each petal curling toward the viewer, Raffael zooms in on the flower, which is solid and ephemeral simultaneously, an object of meditation.
Painted during the months of the Pandemic, Lynn McCarty’s oil paintings on aluminum became about COVID, as she says “through slow layers of time.” The artist writes about the works: “One is open with two separated shapes - yet singular, isolated but warm and together; one is dreamy in an aquatic way, restless and drifting. Inside and outside, above and below. Serene yet ominous. The last pulls together a sort of human depth and darkness into a colorful possible light. Highlighted embers and deep etched random grooves occupy a space filled with history.”
For Jody Uttal the works are a direct reflection of the way she was feeling. When the virus first hit, she felt unsafe, and started making tight watercolors with little breathing room or space. As time passed and as she stayed at home, her fear diminished as she accepted the new reality of sheltering. The artist writes about this work: “The watercolors started opening up. There was space in the patterns. Light could come in. They were almost like scrims that I could look through.”
The works in this exhibition are a testimony to the enduring spirit of art, springing from this time of uncertainty, isolation, and death.