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Gang of six

‘4 Thieves’ at Firehouse 13; Mays and Sgouros at the PAC
By GREG COOK  |  September 23, 2009


PATCHWORK DREAMSCAPE A painting by Andrew Moon Bain.

Around town lately, you may have noted the screenprint that Andrew Moon Bain designed for the four-person exhibit “4 Thieves” at Firehouse 13 (41 Central Street, Providence, through September 29). It shows the heads of the artists growing out of a tree amidst a dazzling storm of swirling lines. It looks like the poster for an amazing rock show. And it lured me back to the Firehouse, which has a track record of awesome musical events but disappointing art.

Bain, who splits his time between Providence and Brooklyn, doesn’t disappoint with his collaged paintings. In one picture, a soldier sleeps on hills, made from a pink fish scale pattern, under diamond-leaved trees next to a green lake filled with pink fish. Roses, blue clouds, and winged heads float in the yellow sky above. Another painting shows a cut-out brown bird pasted onto a green sky over a pattern of flat green mountains scarved with mist. They are cute, bright, graphic, patchwork dreamscapes.


CRISPLY RENDERED Shapiro’s Romeo and Juliet.

But unfortunately, the rest of the show is more typical Firehouse visual fare. Providence artist Monica Shinn muddles her expressionist paintings of urban rooftops. Former Firehouse director Anna Shapiro of Providence has too many conflicting patterns going on in her painting Linked — a silhouette of a head, decorated with a leafy design, behind a chain-link fence and in front of paisley wallpaper. Her Romeo and Juliet features an orange silhouette of a handgun floating in front of a silhouette of a head cut out from a print depicting two cats. The symbols don’t add up, but the collage is better for focusing on fewer elements and being more crisply rendered.

Angel Quiñonez of Providence displays his usual sure graphic touch in his painting Magia Negra Magia Blanca (Black Magic White Magic), a stylized pattern of green tropical leaves with the title and the words “Si” and “No” painted in gold on top. A topless lady is outlined in pink in an upper corner. Attached to the lower half is a panel cut out and painted to resemble a blue skull, decorated with curling reds lines and a rose, sitting among leaves. But Quiñonez loses his way when he tries to get more realistic — for example, struggling with the anatomy and rendering of a naked lady in another multi-motif painting.


QUAINT An untitled painting by Maxwell Mays.

The Providence Art Club (11 Thomas Street, Providence), which just celebrated the completion of its $3.5 million renovation and expansion, is presenting a retrospective pairing of two venerable local artists: Thomas Sgouros of Providence and Maxwell Mays of Coventry (through October 2).

Mays’s paintings of quaint olden days in Rhode Island mix the folksiness of J.O.J. Frost of Marblehead, Massachusetts, or Grandma Moses with the easygoing appeal of New Yorker covers. (Mays’s paintings have graced the cover of Yankee magazine two dozen times.) In 44 works from the 1950s to this decade, his main subjects are bustling Main Street USA intersections and bird’s-eye historical panoramas of Ocean State towns in which he seems to have carefully noted every leaf, every brick.

My favorite is Pawtuxet Village (1989), which depicts rows of matching black and white houses near a water-powered mill. Cows, barns, and striped farm fields spread across the surrounding, rolling green hills. Horse-drawn carriages and a stream train go through the town. It’s as charming as a toy train set.

Sgouros is represented by 30 paintings — uptight still-lifes from the mid-1980s to mid-’90s, and brand new soft-focus, impressionistic Remembered Landscapes. The simplified landscapes, which he continues to paint despite losing more and more of his sight to macular degeneration, sometimes turn generic. But the rusty hues and great clouds billowing over marshes and slivers of shiny water can still evoke a strong autumn mood.

Related: Creative loafing, Review: California Smile | Roof Came Off House, High-powered hybrid, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Painting, Visual Arts, Anna Shapiro,  More more >
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Re: Gang of six
What I find remarkable — not to mention annoying and disheartening — is that so few writers reviewing art in the newspapers or on the internet are talented or perspicacious enough to write actual art criticism. In fact, as regards Mr. Cook's "Gang of Six", I could get more in-depth analysis from a fourth-grade art appreciation class. Mr. Cook seems qualified only to speak about what suits his taste. Obviously, he likes "paintings of quaint olden days", "Grandma Moses with the easygoing appeal of New Yorker covers", "rusty hues and great clouds billowing over marshes and slivers of shiny water" and paintings as "charming as a toy train set." He shows his ignorance of and, I think, antipathy toward the edgier, less traditional, more courageous forms of contemporary art. His prejudice is revealed when he seems to focus on the "naked lady" and "topless lady" of the work of Angel Quiñone rather than confront the deeper motivations behind Quiñone's use of the 'naked female form', or even 'naked woman'; his casual use of the word "lady" is a cultural, social, and masculinist presumption for which Mr. Cook takes no responsibility, though his bias clearly colors his view of the work. His monotone description of Bain's work as "cute, bright, graphic, patchwork dreamscapes" reveals Mr. Cook's inability to go deeper than the first glance. Because Anna Shapiro's juxtaposed forms and use of color don't "add up" for him, he assumes they won't "add up" for anyone, though he never acknowledges his own location in relationship to the art, nor his obviously limited visual, philosophical, and theoretical vocabulary. It's as though thinking about the meaning of the work within an informed cultural context hurts his head, and he is unwilling to make himself uncomfortable by doing so. Mr. Cook's flaccid, inarticulate, uninterrogated review reads like a book report from a bored student rather than meaningful criticism from a curious observer who is passionate about art and artists. I think the readers of the Phoenix deserve better.
By Megaera on 09/25/2009 at 4:14:33

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