If Wallpaper Could Talk: Reihana’s in Pursuit of Venus [infected] tells old stories with new perspectives

The minute I stepped into the large empty room of the exhibit, I was blown away by the size of it. I was instantly intrigued by the large moving screen of a painting of a Pacific island projected on the wall. In the foreground were people walking around and interacting with each other in the projection. Some were dressed as the European explorers, others as Pacific Islanders from the same era of colonial expansion. I watched their interactions in front of this painted background like it was a dramatic movie, and I could not wait to see what would come next in the scrolling panorama of the videos of them. The room was cool, almost as if wind was blowing, but I am sure I was just imagining being on the island with the people, since they were so close moving right in front of me. I couldn’t help but keep my eyes glued to the screen as I watched the variety of interactions taking place as the scenes and sounds slowly scrolled across the room, playing out until the scene reached the end of the wall. 

Lisa Reihana’s immersive creation, in Pursuit of Venus [infected], utilizes modern technology to provide viewers the opportunity to learn about 18th century European exploration of the Pacific from a new perspective. Reihanna uses the 19th century French wallpaper Les Sauvages de la mer Pacifique (The Native Peoples of the Pacific Ocean), 1804-1805 by Joseph Dufour et Cie, to serve as the Pacific island landscape background behind recordings of real-life actors who reenact a plethora of scenes from the European explorers meeting the native Māori and other Pacific Indigenous peoples. Music, sounds, and video recordings of the actors create the immersive experience for the viewer. The technology of this exhibit generates curiosity and uncertainty as you get to watch the typical behavior and sometimes conflict between the groups of people.

Reihana, who is Māori herself, has a mission of reimagining the previous fantastical, Neoclassical depiction of Captain James Cook and his voyages. Instead, her work provides an accurate understanding of both the peaceful and violent interactions between the European settlers and native Pacific Islanders. She does this by transparently illustrating the exchanges between the two culturally distinct groups. Reihana states, “I challenge the stereotypes that developed in those times and since, and the gaze of imperialism is turned back on itself with a speculative twist that disrupts notions of beauty, authenticity, and history and uncovers myth-making.”

Kate Krazcon, the curator of the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University, shares her insight on the value and mission of Reihana’s work: “Reihanna is not moving towards authenticity; that is not what she is trying to achieve. She is trying to kind of reimagine, not depict historical moments, but reimagine what could have happened in terms of miscommunication across British and Native Pacific Islanders in terms of their encounters.” 

Krazcon elaborated on the true motivation behind Reihanna’s efforts as she explained that the exhibit demonstrates how exploration was not simply the British coming and dominating the land because they had firearms or large and impressive ships. Rather, there were many moments of cultural exchange and appreciation between the different groups of people. 

Finally, Krazcon comments on the impact that the cinematic technology has had on the public’s engagement with the exhibit: “I think that when you draw from cinematic strategies, people are more likely to engage with work, versus if she just made another print of the wallpaper … It draws you in. People tend to spend a lot of time when they go into the piece and I think that was her intent. It was also to activate and get the agency to the indigenous peoples of the original wallpaper because they were depicted so incorrectly historically.”

A note of warning to anyone who attends: Time passes differently in the exhibit. Something about the relaxed but constant pacing made me expect to stay only a few minutes, but when I checked my phone it had been 30. To go centuries back in time seems to take a little contemplation time.

Art on the Walk and on the Wall: A walking tour of Providence and a gallery show at Sprout

Two Art events just popped up on our feed…

Providence Art Walk

Gallery Night is offering a series of family friendly walking tours of Public Art in Downtown Providence on Saturday, September 25 at 11 am, 1pm and 3pm. The tour should take about two hours. Find details and links to reserve a slot https://www.facebook.com/gallerynightprovidence/

Bold Gallery Show

Eran Fraenkel has a way with line and color that captures your attention and draws you in. The Gallery at Sprout Providence  is presenting a solo exhibition of his work. The show features Eran’s recent colored pen, ink and marker pieces, include some black and white pen-and-ink works, as well as colored line work done during Eran’s years in Barcelona. Sprout CoWorking, 166 Valley St Building 6M Suite 103, Providence, RI 02909, through Sep 30.

Work by Eran Fraenkel at Sprout CoWorking through Sep 30

Make America Worse Again

William Schaff is a Warren-based artist who has lent his talents to many endeavors, but is perhaps most well-known for his skulled-up faces (check out his signature style on the faces of Gina Raimondo and Allan Fung he illustrated for our October 2018 cover).

His most recent project is the skulled-up face of Donald Trump — pictured here — paired with the text “Make America Worse Again, Vote Trump 2020.” He made this image a free download for people who wanted to hang it in their window or anywhere they deemed appropriate. “Have at it!” he wrote.

Schaff’s fans decided the most appropriate place for this image was a billboard, so they each pitched in a few bucks and made that dream a reality. The billboard went up on October 5, and you can see the skulled-up Trump at the corner of Dorrance and Friendship streets where it will remain until November 5 when all our questions will be answered — or perhaps more will be raised.

Monster of the Month: September 2020

Creature Beach

Since Governor Raimondo reduced parking at Misquamicut and Scarborough Beaches to 25% of capacity, the beach now is populated with crabs, birds and giant turtles, and the waters are full of whales, giant squid, prehistoric sea creatures, and all the other life forms in nature (and imagination) that appear when there are fewer humans around. 

find the beach life

-2 Seahorses
-Atlantic Cod
-Scallop Shells
-3 Gulls
-2 Walrus
-Broadbill Swordfish
-2 Harbor Seals
-Hope Anchor
-Loggerhead Turtles
-Headstand Snorkler
-2 Leatherback Turtles
-Tiny Squid
-Sperm Whale
-Sea Bass
-Covid Cruise Ship
-Deep Sea Diver
-Reclining Sea Creature
-Newport Light House

A Grand Adventure in Nature Photography at Common Fence Point Center

Deidra Ricci, founder of Grand Adventure Nature Photography, held her first show at the Common Fence Point Center for Arts, Wellness and Community in Portsmouth on Sunday, December 8. Deidra’s captivating stills graced the walls of the center in the form of canvas, framed prints and postcards. Deidra, a travel enthusiast, used the catch phrase “photos from as far as Alaska, to right down the street” to help define her show to spectators as a range of scenery from intriguing journeys to the uniquely familiar. 

“It is a pleasure having Deidra’s work at the hall,” said Lee Ferreira, member of the arts group at Common Fence Point. “She is a neighbor who has taken great photos, many of which highlight the neighborhood.” Since 2016, Common Fence Point, a non-profit organization, has been showcasing local artists and musicians. Recently, Common Fence Point Center upgraded their venue by adding gallery lighting, classrooms for teaching theater and art, and purchasing concert equipment for music shows. The beautifully designed building is not only a great addition to Portsmouth, but was constructed while keeping in mind with the goal: to maintain a healthy, happy, and resilient community. By owning a house right next store, Deidra was the perfect candidate to uphold the Common Fence Point mission. 

Deidra Ricci poses in front of some of her works from Rhode Island
at Common Fence Point Center.

Deidra spoke highly of her time taking photographs locally. She did not hesitate in acting out her routine of moving back and forth while pretending to hold her camera. She even mentioned getting down and dirty to take some photos of the Newport Bridge. The budding photographer claims, “God sets the scene, I just take the picture,” but does admit that her part in capturing these aesthetic masterpieces lies in their composition.  Her strengths, her admirers say, is her ability to add depth to her photos through her special attention to her subject in the foreground. Her photos from Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, South Dakota, Maine and Rhode Island all have at least one enchanting use of this type of configuration. 

Though Deidra had been taking pictures for years, it wasn’t until commemorating a recent trip to Alaska in the form of scrapbooking that gave her the confidence to share her work with others. For her, spending time carefully curating pieces for this project sparked revelation — she began to see her photographs as works of art, each with its own history. For Deidra, the photos became more than just a snapshot in time, but each a conduit for telling a story – her story.  It is for this reason that Deidra does not yet title her work. She wants her viewers to create their own fiction – or truth — from what they see.  

Deidra’s works will be on display at Common Fence Point Center December 2019 – January 2020, 933 Anthony Rd, Portmouth. For venue inquiries, contact Lee Ferreira by e-mail at leemcph@hotmail.com; for more information on Grand Adventure Nature Photography, contact Deidra Ricci by e-mail at grandadventurenature@gmail.com.

Monster Spread!

View The Full Experience in Print or Here!

Taps on Tap: Hannison Woodworks has a handle on things

If you’ve been out for drinks in RI, chances are you’ve seen Matt Eaton’s work. Eaton is the artist behind Hannison Woodworks, which produces custom beer and coffee taps. Over the past seven years Matt has earned a reputation for crafting these striking works of functional art from which various local liquids flow. “The Nitro Cart was the first one locally, and word spread from there,” he says. If you want to see Eaton’s work out in the wild, you have quite a few choices: from the taproom of The Guild in Pawtucket to Buttonwoods Brewery in Cranston to the taps he’s carved for Narragansett Beer.

Eaton moved to RI to go to Johnson and Wales, but tells me, “I decided that I hated cooking.” He ditched the kitchen dreams, bought a table saw and started selling custom woodwork on Etsy. When a customer requested a hand-made beer tap, Eaton knew he’d found a calling. “I’d been woodworking forever, but I was always kind of looking for a niche market that I knew things about. I liked beer, and it spurred an interest.”

Now, he’s carved for clients around the world. “I just finished sending taps to a brewery in China, and one of my favorite projects was when I got to carve some taps for the Netflix series Mindhunter.” He’s even been able to use his far-flung creations as an excuse to travel. “My wife and I have gone as far as Las Vegas, just to see some tap handles.”

But while his taps get pulled across the globe, in the shop Eaton keeps it local. “I work almost strictly with a sawmill in Coventry that supplies the lumber. I’d say that 95% of the wood I use is from trees cut and sourced in Rhode Island.” The business is run from his house, and he carves, laser-etches and mounts each tap himself. He told me that many of his clients value working with local craftspeople, and the feeling is mutual. “I love all the local guys and their craft beers. I probably spend more on beer at the local breweries than they pay me for the handles.”

The biggest challenge currently facing Hannison Woodworks is keeping up with demand. While Eaton continues to carve single-piece orders for home bars, some of his larger clients have ordered thousands of taps. It’s a tall order for a one-man operation, especially considering that Eaton works a full-time job in IT on top of the 30 hours a week he devotes to Hannison.

So there you go — the next time you see a Hannison tap out there, you’ll know that your Rhode Island beer is flowing from a Rhode Island tap carved by a Rhode Islander from a Rhode Island tree out of someone’s backyard in Rhode Island. Local is good.

Pretty Is a Blind Man’s Playground

Beware the pretty; it is a spinning maelstrom, a black hole that will suck you in and leave you in the dark. Pretty things distract viewers from the reality that lies beneath what they see. Maybe when things get too pretty, a barrier between the art and the viewer forms that says, “I am here and you are there … do not touch.”

The new exhibit, Alchemical Reactions, at The Wheeler School’s Chazen Gallery, has no shortage of pretty things, but counters that with the use of light and reflection; a way to bring viewers close. The show highlights two artists whose works play with light and reflection. Susan Freda and Allison Paschke have set up their camps on the close-cutting walls of the gallery, mirroring light off of one another’s work.

Susan Freda’s work is light, bright and airy. With a jeweler’s precision, she weaves intricate webbings of wire that hold bits of glass, beads, silver and gold leaf. Gowns and tapestries are made by the artist’s needle nose pliers rather than grandma’s crochet needles, and play with the light and heavy, strong and fragile. The other crucial elements, not found in the jeweler’s toolbox, is the duality of light and shadow, and how it plays lyrically throughout the ethereal forms. With the help of overhanging studio lights, the pieces are given another dimension of form and body.

Susan Freda Vitro OrbisVitro Orbis (Glass Circle), tin-coated copper, wire, gold and silver leaf and metal powders, is a glass dreamcatcher that captures the light above and creates a ghostly shadow of rings and baubles, feathering outward underneath the menagerie of metallic and glass nuggets. Striking and poetic, Vitro Orbis is as playful and stoic as Jellylorum, George Pushdragon, Pettipaws and Rum Tum Tugger, or any other of T.S. Eliot’s fanciful Jellicles.

Susan Freda Arura Glacialis (Frozen Field)Parting from the gowns and tapestries that are comforting in their familiarity is a piece called Arura Glacialis (Frozen Field). Setting itself apart from the rest of the work with qualities of impressionistic water lilies, Frozen Field lives up to its title, freezing the viewer’s reflection, trapping it underneath the surface of porcelain shells and glass clusters. It gives the impression of reflection, the viewer’s image receding, never to come back clear and vibrant.

Allison Paschke 2In the other camp in this exhibition is minimalist Allison Paschke, whose work operates on color, form and themes found in nature. Her work echoes nature with its ordered chaos, holding to a tightly constructed balance, everything uniform from afar, but on closer inspection, very different. Gridlocked on most of the work are little geometric cabinets of curiosities, little porcelain articles over highly polished squares of blue, yellow-gold and grey. They read like Aztec temples, white hieroglyphics, or a utopian city turned dystopian and back again and left flooded on a reflective surface. Elements of nature do not go unnoticed. On bigger compositions the geometric shapes are turned into precisely pinned fungus forms called ips that huddle together like stars and spread out like wildflowers.

Allison Paschke First GlipsAllison’s piece, First Glips, a 24×24 mirror surface, silvery blue, with radiating squares made of glass circles, is the most hypnotic of the works and takes complete advantage of the light, jutting it inward and outward, locking the viewer in its spell.

Going into this show, if the eye rests only on the surface — on the pieces’ prettiness — if you become distracted by the “oohs” and “aahs,” then you have missed the show entirely. Do not be made comfortable by the bells and whistles, look closely and challenge what you are seeing. The pretty and precious are for the walls of the home. It is the fly to the flame. The reward of this show is how the pieces exhibit the use of light and reflection, how light adds and reflection draws. The most important materials in both artists’ toolboxes are not glass, gold leaf, porcelain, resins, or wire; they are light and reflection. 

Alchemical Reactions at The Wheeler School’s Chazen Gallery is featuring the works of Susan Freda and Allison Paschke, and will be on display through March 6.

Somebody Let the Walldogs Out

The Knickerbocker Express rolls into the Westerly station on a railroad made of piano keys. Ahead of the station, a silhouette of a man carries his guitar to a jazz club. Whatever song he’ll play, we won’t get to hear.

The musically themed mural tells the story of The Knickerbocker Cafe, the blues club built in Westerly in 1933, after the end of Prohibition. It’s one of 14 murals scheduled to be painted in Westerly, Rhode Island, and Stonington, Connecticut, between September 13 and 17 as part of the Bricks and Murals Festival. The painting of the mural, which will run alongside The Knickerbocker at 33 Railroad Ave, is being led by Sonny Franks of Georgia. Franks is a “Walldog,” who describe themselves as a group of “highly skilled sign painters and mural artists from all over the globe.”

And this month, the Walldogs will descend on New England.

“We’re painting history,” says Fred Peretta, marketing co-chair of Bricks and Murals. “These things don’t come around. These murals are a 25-year commitment; the maintenance program on them is 25 years. I don’t know if this is the most-ever (murals) done in five days or not in the Northeast, but it’s a huge deal.”

For the Walldogs, it’s the first time the group has embarked on a two-state, two-town project. “It might not happen around here for another 20 years,” says Peretta. “They mostly stay in the Midwest.”

It’s their largest-scaled project in the region to date. Their last (and only) Walldogs New England meet-up was in 2005 and decidedly smaller in scope: murals showcasing the four seasons along an outside wall of Connecticut’s Canaan Market. Bricks and Murals is their first, full Northeast festival.

Bricks and Murals estimates hundreds of artists, in collaboration with local artists, will travel to paint the story of the communities of Westerly and Stonington. Beyond the Knickerbocker Express, other murals are dedicated to the impact of the Hurricane of 1938; a storm that caused $308 million in damages — the equivalent of $5.1 billion, adjusted to 2016 dollars. Another mural stands in dedication to the Westerly Band, established in 1852, and the longest, non-military musical organization in continuous service in the country. John Tedeschi, art director at Westerly High School, is project-leading students on a mural showcasing the region’s Italian heritage.

Beyond acting as painters, Westerly High School actually ends up on the other side of the brush. The Westerly Bulldogs long-running rivalry with the Stonington Bears is one of America’s oldest football rivalries — and the subject of the mural at 8 Mechanic St. The two schools have been feuding since a 1911 Thanksgiving game.

Besides the spectacle of Westerly-Pawcatuk being transformed into a downtown-sized canvas for five days, numerous events are planned to keep spectators from, well, watching paint dry. Each evening ends with live music and on September 14, there will be a block party and food stroll. There’s also a dedicated wall where children can sign up to paint murals of their own.

According to Peretta, Walldog Cam Bortz was the “key driver” in bringing the festival to our region. “He’s been a Walldog for 20 years,” says Peretta. “He lives here. He’s a Stonington resident. He’s bringing it home.”

For a volunteer-driven art project of its scale, there are goals and outcomes beyond beautification and historical preservation of a community’s stories.

“Westerly and Pawcatuk, Stonington, are already well known for their beaches and restaurants,” says Peretta. “Adding a large amount of art to everything will add a new dimension to the town. The two towns are connected, the roads run into each other. You can’t tell where you are. We’re hoping for some economic development. We want downtown Westerly and downtown Stonington to be areas to come to, so when you’re visiting southern Rhode Island and the northeast shores of Connecticut, people see the murals and spend time in downtown.”