26.8.13

Mystic


Mystic
  5 -1/4”w x 8”h x 3 -3/16” - 
plastic, porcelain, murcury glass, archival board, steel wire, copper wire, wood, acrylic paint, glass


My sister Tracey and I were cruising down a dark, rural road. Tracey was driving. I had been in bad way after some major life disasters and she thought going to a psychic would be a fun diversion for a Halloween night. All I could see was blackness outside the car window. Occasionally, a pool of light illuminated a front doorway, renting the dark comfort I had wrapped myself in.
Angela was going to read our cards. She was the mother of a woman my sister worked with. Tracey had set it up and I was going along, because when you begin to believe that there is no future, you become desperate to prove that belief isn’t true. We pulled into the driveway of a low-roofed house. It was an unremarkable ranch. Behind it, a zeppelin-shaped trailer glowed in a silvery porch light. The metallic light and the odd trailer gave the unassuming house and eerie aspect. I had a feeling that I was leaving the familiar world behind. Inside, Angela sat at a long kitchen table. She looked remarkably like Zelda Rubinstein in the movie Poltergeist. Her hair was dyed a bright red. Her hands were covered in jewels. Why do psychics and fortune tellers adorn themselves so copiously? Is it to distract the seeker from their legerdemain, or is it a holdover from a nomadic people who put their wealth into portable assets? Angela’s ornamentation seemed to me less an attempt at gypsy costume and more a hopeful suggestion of wealth. Still, the diamond lights from her fingers danced around her as she moved her hands in rhythm to her talking, adding a sparkling aura that surrounded her; the star in the room.
As we took our places around the kitchen table, I noticed darkened doorways to other rooms offering vague possibilities. Angela reigned under the circle of light radiating from the lamp overhead. Before her was a deck of cards printed with “Gypsy Witch” in Halloween black and orange. Angela explained her process: she would lay out the cards and interpret their meaning. Occasionally a word, phrase, or name would cross her mind and she would shout it out. “They mean nothing to me, but they might mean something to you,” she instructed.
The reading began. In an ever expanding fan shape, she placed out the cards. They were ostensibly a normal deck with the standard trumps. What made them curious was the addition of illustrations of objects limned in an antique engraving style, complete with mock hand coloring. The images told their story: a house, a hearth, a dog - symbols of domesticity; an anchor, a key - symbols of luck. Mountains covered in clouds, “you will have problems,” she intoned absently. Her voice was a sing-song chant of information about the present and the future. Punctuating the placing of the cards, Angela blurted out names: “Agnes, Laura, Skip; do these mean anything to you?” “I don’t know where they come from; I just tell you what I hear.” Then suddenly, “Who’s Busty!?” shot through the thickening atmosphere. The incongruity of the question broke the heaviness of the moment and my sister and I tried to suppress our chuckling. “I just tell you what comes, I don’t know what they mean” she reminded us again, her face began jiggling with laughter. This gave us permission and we all gave in to the levity. We didn’t know anyone named Busty.
My attention had been on the curious cards and the baroque hands of Angela. Gradually, I became aware of the other kitchen chairs quietly becoming occupied. One by one, women, frail and cadaverous, unsteady in their shuffling, materialized out of the shadowed doorways. They drifted to the table, grasping the backs of the chairs with skeletal hands and joined the reading. It seemed that Angela rented rooms to the elderly in the final stage of their lives. These were her tenants, and the reading was as good an evening’s entertainment as any.
I don’t remember if that Halloween reading held any truths for me, or if the future it predicted actually happened. What I remember is the theatrical character of Angela, her good natured humor about her “gift,” and the near ghosts manifesting throughout the room. 
There are many methods that have been devised in our attempts to divine the future. Angela used cards (cartomacy), while Mystic depicts catoptromancy - the use of a mirror. Mirror scrying is akin to crystal gazing, or the use of any reflective surface to obtain images that are usually interpreted as portents of the future. It is up to the seer to make sense of the images that manifest. The seer is the mystic who is supposed to possess the sensitivity to access beyond the present and gain impressions or knowledge of other timelines. The mirror may only be a point of concentration to open an intuitive connection. It may not be magical in itself.
I would see Angela twice more, not because she had been particularly accurate, or because she offered amazing insight. Instead I felt a comfort, as if someone were attending to my particular problems. Angela was the conduit of hope for my lost sense of purpose. Somehow through the cards, her words, and the theater of those evenings, she made my journey to the future possible. Eventually, my interest in the cards led me to learn how to read them myself. They would become a path away from the blackness I had wrapped myself in. 

Mystic was part of the exhibition, “A Time in Arcadia” at Curious Matter, May 19 - June 23, 2013


9.6.13

A Time In Arcadia

I have a piece in this group exhibition at Curious Matter in conjuction with the 
Jersey City Free Public Library






WE DREAM of Arcadia. Whether it’s called Eden or Shangri-la, we long for a verdant and fecund place where food comes without toil and peace fills our days. Some cultures have taken a more proactive approach to attaining this dream and set aside land to build their own Arcadias. Persian paradise gardens and the Italian Renaissance Mannerist gardens were attempts, by those with the means, to create a place separate from the dreary drudgeries of life. Extravagant fountains and statuary complemented clipped hedges and trellised vines, all surrounded by a wall to protect the sanctuary.
Not all gardens were so grand and ornamental. Medieval monastery gardens could be intimate in scale and cultivated solely for food and medicinals. The plants themselves being the most vital component. For most life on Earth, plants are the base of the food chain. Their importance is nearly absolute. Relying upon the plentiful light of the sun for survival, plants create their own food. Often they produce more than they need at any one time. These stored reserves feed the rest of life on Earth. Roots, stems, leaves, seeds and fruit are all exploited by the diversity of living things to obtain their own nourishment for survival.
To read more, please go to Curious Matter.

THE ARTISTS
CURIOUS MATTER

THE JERSEY CITY
FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY

22.12.12

Lion



Lion:  6 1/2” x 7” x 4 1/2” - oil on canvas, plastic, archival board, steel wire, wood, acrylic paint, glass


Hercules may well be the first lion tamer. His struggle with the Nemean Lion ended with him getting a super powered cloak impervious to weapons, and the vanquished lion becoming immortalized as the constellation Leo. These days the lion act at the circus may consist of an aged cat prodded to jump through a ring of fire, while PETA members protest that lions belong in the wild. PETA may have a point, but lions and humans have been pitted against each other since the gladiators fought them.

Lions are apex predators that bring down prey often larger than themselves. They are designed by nature to be efficient killers with their powerful jaws, long fangs and sharp talons. For a man to beat a lion he must have great prowess in fighting and courage. Throughout history these qualities have been coveted, lauded, and rewarded across civilizations.

The lion is also a sun symbol. Their mane resembles the corona of the sun and their golden color mimics the sun. The sun shines from Leo during the hottest time of the year, late July and early August. August is also the month when the Nile floods. Because of this, the head of a lion is often used as a font on fountains to symbolize the sun and the source of the Nile’s life giving water.

My inspiration for Lion lay with the banner. I have long held a fascination with circus and carnival banners. Their loud colors and sensational imagery would fire my imagination, often in ways that would make it impossible for reality to compete. There was also something horrific and frightening about the subjects they were advertising. Provocative and voyeuristic, they relied on our baser curiosities to capture our attention. As a child, my parents firmly forbade me to enter into the dim and creepy recesses of the sideshow. When I was finally able to quench my long held curiosity, there was crushing disappointment. What was so tantalizingly appealing on the banners was in reality often a fraud, or nearly so. The banner images could set the imagination running, but the reality was a tawdry ruse. This became one of my major life lessons in disillusionment. Was it my fault for expecting something impossible, or was it the fault of the circus for advertising falsely? A little of both I believe, even if Barnum did call the public suckers.

Still, the imagery on the banners stayed with me. On them the lions looked more fierce, regal and frightening then their pallid and toothless real life counterparts. The banner images lived and fostered a world of my own creation where such perfection and magic could exist, where the impossible seemed probable, and however horrible our fears, they were never a danger. -AB

Lion was part of the exhibition, Dangerous Toys

at Curious Matter, October 13 - November 11, 2012


9.12.12

Dangerous Toys


I was selected for participation in the Dangerous Toys exhibition at Curious Matter. Dangerous Toys was curated by SASHA CHAVCHAVADZE.


OCTOBER 13 TO NOVEMBER 11, 2012
Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.
Step on a nail, put your father in jail.
Step in a hole, break your mother’s sugar bowl.
Step on a line, you break your mother’s spine.
Step in a ditch, your mother’s nose will itch.
–Children’s Rhymes

 

Playing With Matches

I’VE BEEN PLAYING WITH MATCHES FOR YEARS. I make assemblages of multi-colored matches that I display with historical documents and photographs in a “one-room Cold War museum” called the Museum of Matches. When I work with matches I feel a sense of danger and risk, but also the imaginative excitement of a child playing with a toy. The imminent possibility of both creation and destruction is always at hand.
To read more visit Curious Matter.
Artists selected for participation:
Arthur Bruso
Raymond E. Mingst
Debra Regh
Lance Rutledge


10.6.12

Haunted Hallway





Haunted Hallway
3 photographs, vintage wallpaper, acrylic medium
each image 5" x 7"


Stairs can be dangerous places. My grandfather died from a fall down a flight stairs. While carrying a watermelon up the stairs, the leg brace he wore caught a tread and he lost his balance. My mother some years later fell down the same steps and survived with just two broken arms and a broken leg.  Was it a misstep or was the spirit of my grandfather now haunting those stairs? Ghosts are said to hang around the place of their tragedy, often inadvertently causing further mishaps. Or, perhaps it was some other demon cursing the stairs that was to blame for both disasters. We can only guess. Those stairs were no longer used
after my mother’s accident.
In folklore, the stairs of a house fall within the realm of transitional areas.  While a part of the house, they are not part of the living space. They exist in a twilight place, making them vulnerable points of attack for evil to invade. Like their attendant hallways, they connect rooms, but one does not live on them. Stairs are also full of corners and turns which collect negative energy. Because of this build up of negativity and vulnerability, there are rituals to keep the evil spirits at bay that may be lurking about to trip up an unsuspecting soul. Superstition advises when climbing stairs, that one should always keep ones hand on the railing and the railing should always be made of wood. Wood comes from trees and trees, since the time of the ancient Greeks have been accorded their own deities. The Greeks called the tree spirit by various names: Melia for ash, Epimeilad for apple and Caryatid for walnut, but dryad, which has its literal translation of “oak wood,” has come to represent all trees. Pagans, when collecting fruit, cutting branches, or felling a tree, would ask permission from the resident dryad first. There would often be an offering of thanks left behind. Over time, this ritual devolved to a simple knocking to acknowledge the spirits presence in the wood. We still “knock on wood” to obtain the favor of the resident spirit. This is also why we are to keep our hand on the railing as we walk on the stairs, to implore the dryad to protect us from falling. 
Symbolically, stairs are the path to the higher self, which is why many public building were built with grand stairs up to the entrance. Such a monumental flight of stairs provided both the visual and physical experience of being elevated to the place of mankind’s highest achievements. At the top of the steps, the sojourner is ascendant; somehow greater than before, or they are about to have an experience that will enlighten. Since stairs are an ascension to the higher self there is a superstition that you should not pass people on them. Encountering someone else as you go up stairs is an impediment to your lofty goal. To
negate any negative impact of the encounter, cross your fingers or make the sign of the cross. The cross is an ancient symbol of balance. The two opposing lines restores the equality of energy and the central crossing point binds the object of the spell. This is also why it is believed that tying a knot in a string can bind a magic spell. The knot is a form of the cross. Crossing your fingers has the same effect – the binding of positive energy. Similarly, in Catholic ceremonial practice, the act of crossing oneself is an act of consecration. The movement, in the form of the cross of Calvary, is a supplication to bind a blessing and thwart whatever evil may be present.
Haunted Hallway is informed by these concepts of folklore, superstition, ascension and transition. The confusing space, peeling walls, unnatural lighting and the addition of shards of wallpaper from the site lend an eerie quality to the images. There is something that emanates from objects that have history. An anima perhaps. This hallway in a 19th century building is purported to be haunted. By incorporating pieces of the ancient wallpaper onto the images of this space, it is my hope that the residual energy of age, or of the possible presence, are now a part of the piece.
As you make your climb, hold onto the railing and tread your steps carefully. The dim and steep stairs of life have many a bogie which has been enjoined to keep us from reaching the top. If we know the secrets, we can ascend these dark places with protection. - AB


Haunted Hallway was exhibited in The Fool's Journey at Curious Matter.

26.5.12

The Fool's Journey


I participated in this exhibition at Curious Matter.


APRIL 1, 2012 – MAY 20, 2012
AT CURIOUS MATTER
APRIL 14 – JULY 1, 2012
AT PROTEUS GOWANUS
The Fool’s Journey is a collaboration between Curious Matter in Jersey City, NJ and Proteus Gowanus in Brooklyn, NY. The exhibition will be presented in two parts concurrently at Curious Matter and Proteus Gowanus. The exhibition is a complement to the yearlong, multi-disciplinary inquiry hosted by Proteus Gowanus on the theme of Migration and will be exhibited in parallel to its Future Migration show, exploring where we may end up as we embark into the future.
“Every voyage is a journey…. who knows/if the old men/who shine shoes on the Staten Island Ferry/carry their world in a box slung across their shoulders/if they share their lunch/with birds/flying back and forth/upon an endless journey/if they ever find their way/back home.”

Audre Lorde, excerpt from “A Trip on the Staten Island Ferry”


The Fool’s Journey

And so we begin…

THE MOST COURAGEOUS PART of any undertaking is always the beginning. Making the difficult decision to begin pushes aside the doubts and fears of what may lie ahead and calms the expectation of failure. This energy of beginning is the Fool who sets out into an unknown to discover whatever he may find. In the tarot, the Fool is represented by the numeral 0: nothing, emptiness, void. The fool is a blank slate without knowledge, an acolyte who is seeking. He starts out penniless and ragged, carrying all of his meager possessions with him; a young man, just leaving home to make his way in the world. He is a naïf full of dreams, willing to let the Universe show him the way.
Read more at Curious Matter
I was proud to be included with the following artists:

Curious Matter

PROTEUS GOWANUS

29.4.12

A Narrow World

A Narrow World is my latest book of photographic images. There are two essays to accompany the images. The first is:

A Narrow World

Tall and decorous, the house where I grew into adulthood stands iconic in my mind and my artistic output. It has become a symbol of home, family and a reconstructed past that hopelessly intertwines the truth and fiction of how things were and how I wanted them to be. A Narrow World, is a collection of photographs which explore the garden space of my childhood home at 56 Elm Street. I spent a lot of time in the Elm Street garden, initially as a place of play and elementary exploration with my brother Michael. We would devise ever more imaginative and impossible deaths for our toy soldiers throughout the garden and we had an insatiable desire to see what monsters and mysteries lurked in the darkness beneath its rocks. We were allowed to experiment with rudimentary gardening, each getting a package of seeds to plant. The successes of pole beans and zinnias encouraged further youthful experiments and offered me a sense of the earth’s cycles. I was a curious child; always inspired to learn something new or try something I had read about. I was only temporarily disappointed by failure and encouraged by success.  The garden became one of the first projects where I tried to impose my vision upon something and as such became vital soil for the nurturing of my art education. ...


The remainder of the essay can be found in the book.



A NARROW WORLD - No. 8 - Three Structure for Capturing Light
3 color photographs, each 5" x 7"



A NARROW WORLD - No. 2 - Migration
 color photographs, 5" x 7"



A NARROW WORLD - No. 13 - What Keep Us Separate
2 color photographs, each 5" x 7"



A NARROW WORLD - No. 17 - Abandoned Room
 color photographs, 5" x 7"


The second essay is titled:

The Second New York Trip

I was bored with school by third grade. Every subject was too easy. While the class was working through our assigned primer at three pages a day, I had skipped ahead and read the entire book. I even mastered drawing 8’s, which had nearly kept me back in the second grade. Mrs. Maloney knew all of this. She knew just how her students were doing and what they were capable of.  Mrs. Maloney believed I had potential, which is why she had me tested for gifted classes. I wasn’t so sure. I hated tests. You had to remember things, which I didn’t do well. Knowing things was different.  You didn’t have to know something exactly for it to be right, but remembering things had to be exact. ...

The remainder of the essay can be found in the book.

THE SECOND NEW YORK TRIP - No. 1 - Crowd Control
3 color photographs, each 5" x 7"

THE SECOND NEW YORK TRIP - No. 3 - City Triton

color photographs, 5" x 7"

THE SECOND NEW YORK TRIP - No. 6 - Cloud Piercing
2 photographs, 7" x 14" overall




A NARROW WORLD book can be purchased from Amazon or from Curious Matter.