Letting Art Happen

H.P.’s visual creators blur the lines wherever they find them

August 2007

by Sebouh Gemdjian
Highland Park Mirror staff


Sarah Wellington supervises a constantly changing exhibition at the 234 Gallery on Raritan Avenue. A new set of works by different artists opens every Thursday evening.

Is art a doorway to reality, its mirror, or just a nice way to escape? Isn’t everything an escape, including your awareness of suffering halfway around the world, if it takes you away from your own life? Then again, is one’s own life an escape?

Perhaps art is what is left when one stops running. Highland Park will stop running, or at least striding purposefully, for the arts festival beginning on Raritan Avenue Sunday the 23rd. We may even achieve some true stillness in the Open Studios event on Sunday, October 21st. But who are these “artist” people anyway — through what framework do they view the world? Who better to ask than the frame maker?

Beamesderfer Gallery opened in 1989 at 6 North Second Ave. as a result of Evan Brownstein’s interest in frame making, as well as representing contemporary print makers. The mystery of art begins in the dialectic of idealism and practicality; so an art history educated small businessman should be able to shed some light on at least where success fits in.

“It’s the rare artist who can make it happen through production of their art, as most quickly find out if their intent is to try to make it happen,” Brownstein said. “You’ll find a lot of students who’ve graduated a fine arts program are not doing anything significant with their art after they’ve been out of it for five years.”

“It’s not unlike applying for jobs? It’s basically a matter of numbers. If you are thick skinned enough to suffer through rejection, you’ll be okay.”

It is endearing, though, that Brownstein’s perspective on the meaning of art is not entirely that of a businessman. “It’s nice when artists can play a role that will have some social benefit, and they have historically been able to do that,” he said. “Whether it’s within their lifetime is another issue.”

So how can something as wild and chaotic as the impulse to create be also dependent on stability? Perhaps it is about revealing the nature of this balance as you see it.

Starting on September 16, Beamesderfer Gallery will exhibit print maker Robert Craig. His medium is block cutting, and besides landscapes and still life, he has a series of prints dealing with war subjects and political commentary.

Speaking of balance as you see it, The Mirror‘s own visual editor, Aparna Rishi, seems to have always been striving for symmetry. She knew she was good with her hands, but she also found joy in writing. She even explored advertising.

“Then I somehow veered into fine art instead of commercial art,” she said. “I did fine arts for about two or three years, and I realized I’m not going to get paid that way. I have a few pieces hanging around town that I sold. From there I got into advertising after taking classes at Middlesex County College.” It was advertising that took her to photography via graphic design.

“I love being in control of everything,” confessed Rishi. “I love planned studio work, where you want to control each and every piece of lighting, each and every object that is going to be included in the frame.”

This would give us a neat finicky artist stereotype, but Rishi continues: “Working for the newspaper, that is very spontaneous… You have to appreciate that also, because when you don’t have any control and you still get an end product, it’s just as compelling.”

Rishi’s control extracts objects from their environment through darkness and perspective, to let us know what we are missing when we compare objects to their surroundings.

“The presence of black and its many shades painting the entire picture forces the viewer to look at the world for what it is,” she said.

“I moved to Highland Park after I graduated college, and wanted to open a space to show art. That’s just what the plan was. I just can’t imagine not doing that,” said Sarah Wellington, owner, curator and artist on display at Space 234 on Raritan Avenue.

Aparna Rishi’s photography will be part of the Open Studios project on October 21st. She also participates in the preview exhibition at IM Gallery, 235 Raritan, starting September 23 during The Arts in the Park street festival.

Space 234 is a gallery run by awareness. The artists are not just observers, documenting. They participate. They will ask you to fill a card with your opinion on the war in Iraq and will read it to Nancy Pelosi for you. The artists, Brian Gahona, Gregory Gonzalez, David Sawanman, Sarah Wellington, Kelsi Kosinski, Door, and Lny Korea — most of them grads of the Mason Gross School of Arts — do not need any one to tell them if they’ve made “it” happen.

“There is art that is for art’s sake,” explains Wellington, citing the relaxation response whereby viewing art can help a sick patient physically feel better. “Then there’s another kind of art,” she says, “that provokes agitation, anger, sadness, happiness, pain, and that is a commentary on social issues. That is the kind of art that I make.”

Some of Wellington’s own work is literally representative of her political affiliations. Some are abstractions, making use of one loud color breaking up a background of built up tension. Others are surreal drawings with an uneasy erotic air.

So perhaps an artist’s in-born duty is to show the cyclic unreliability of reality, and he fails when he takes any one part of it too seriously.

“Human beings lie to themselves every morning when they wake up,” said Wellington. “You couldn’t get out of bed in the morning if you didn’t tell yourself some lies.”

“I believe in manifesting my own reality. I am working on manifesting a reality that has no war, and has no military, and has no borders, and no racism. That’s a lie, that’s not going to happen overnight, but I will work towards those goals.”

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