New exhibitions open at the Handwerker Gallery
Below the Ithaca College Library on the first floor of the Gannett Center is a cozy little art gallery called the Artisan Gallery. Two shows currently inhabit the walls of the room with vibrant colors and bold shapes on one side and delicate portraits of the human body on the other.
From Aug. 25 through Oct. 12, the art of Toby Barnes and Katarina Riesing will be on display in the gallery. Barnes’ show is called “Futuristic Batik!” and Riesing is “Well worn.” Although the two shows look very different, both Barnes and Riesing use a process called batik to create their art. The batik technique it’s when you use a hot wax to block and contain colored dyes on a surface. The paint is then steamed for four hours so that the dyes can set and the batik wax melts.
Paul Nicholson, director of the Handwerker Gallery, said he strives to make the gallery function like a library by having a diverse collection of paintings.
“When you walk into a library, you never know what new information you’ll be exposed to and what new ideas you’ll have when you walk out,” Nicholson said. “Someone pours all their energy into an exhibition and you come out with their condensed knowledge.”
Barnes’ art takes up the right side of the room with flashy colors and intricate designs and patterns, almost mimicking a video game. Many of the paintings are abstract, with a few figures and faces on small and large canvases. Barnes said he loves bringing lines, circles and dots together in a way that creates life.
Barnes said he had been creating art since he was young and later attended high school art at New World School of the Arts in Miami. He currently works as a professional artist and exhibits his work in university galleries and museums.
Barnes first found inspiration for these pieces from a New York show performed by Asian society entitled “Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tension”. The exhibition illustrated pieces from urban centers in Asia.
“They pointed out that the Western avant-garde wanted to sever ties with past traditions, but the Eastern avant-garde never did that and tried to retain past traditions and their roots,” Barnes said. “A lot of non-Western traditions do that: you don’t throw away the past but you kind of bring it in, and that’s what I wanted to contribute to my own work.”
Barnes said his art was inspired by merchants who brought textiles to Africa to trade, and at some point the Dutch started printing them instead of using traditional craft methods.
“Talking to Barnes, I learned that a lot of African fabrics are based on Indonesian designs,” Nicholson said. “So you kind of see something and you might say, ‘oh, that’s traditional African design.’ In some cases it may be, but in some cases it may be influenced by the fabrics that were traded by the Dutch to Africa.
Barnes said he realized there was no separation between traditional and modern, new and old in artistic styles, and he explored this in his pieces. It exemplifies the ancient art style of Southeast Asia with today’s new contemporary forms, such as anime.
On the side of Riesing there are paintings of skin folds, crotch, back with moles or scars.
She uses neutral colors, as well as carefully placed lace and embroidery on the canvas. After Riesing uses the batik process, she goes in and adds the lace on the paintings, which she says is her favorite part.
Riesing said she has always created art because her parents are both artists and art teachers. She said that art has always been a constant in her life and even pushed her to teach art at the Alfred University School of Art and Design in the Foundations and Painting programs.
“At the heart of the work is always the figure, most often the self-portrait,” Riesing said. “I appreciate the dualities housed in the body; that they can be both sexy and grotesque, goofy, funny, sweet and uncomfortable.
Riesing said that because she paints body parts, many people can become uncomfortable. Riesing primarily paints her own body and said that by zooming in and breaking her own body down into shapes, it allows for a different perspective.
“Bodies are complicated,” Riesing said. “When designing new work, I think about the tradition of painting the nude, especially the female nude and all the stereotypical standards of beauty that are built into it. There is a sense of bodily reality that I try to achieve when I paint.
Riesing said that through her works she wants people to be seen, but also to laugh, recoil and question.
Dara Engler, associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Art, said that as a teacher of figure drawing, she wants to reject the idea that there are unattractive parts of the body by fighting against the ideas of beauty and grotesqueness. If our culture stopped teaching us that our bodies are grotesque, then we were reading these works through a different lens.
“I love the idea of taking something that society might tell us is uncomfortable or unattractive and lovingly working on it with markings and embroidery, using color and light to make it beautifully bright and enlivening it. layering with pretty patterns,” Engler said. “Maybe for the artist and the viewer, it makes us love and appreciate our bodies.”
Engler said that by experiencing the Handwerker Gallery, she wants students to rethink, start new dialogues, and expand their approaches to materials and approach design goals in more complex ways.
“Exposure to a variety of artists and processes is crucial for student artists,” Engler said. “But art also initiates dialogues on important topics and makes viewers see new perspectives. That’s what education and the university are for. The gallery benefits the entire campus.
Nicholson said that historically there have been minority voices and topics that have been left out, and now is an important time to showcase everything.
“Art doesn’t really have a function; it’s nobody’s job to teach you about morals or point out virtue, or be political, or restore your values,” Nicholson said. “It’s their interpretation of what this experience is. They deal with it and live with it. You can get in touch with how other people process things and be exposed to new ideas.