Maker Space

T he artist-teachers at Creative Arts Workshop make what they do look easy. Their students know it’s not. 

Robin Green—CAW’s gallery and programs manager and a fabric artist herself—was reminded of this when she took a metal sculpture class at CAW last spring. “I’m realizing how difficult it is,” she says with a laugh, as if perhaps that revelation should have been self-evident.

Green has just mounted CAW’s new faculty show, a once-every-two-years opportunity to see what the art school’s teachers do outside the classroom. In Range: Faculty Biennial offers up the works of 40 of CAW’s approximately 60 instructors, who are sculptors, potters, painters, photographers, printmakers, quilters, weavers and more.

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Trying something different gave Green a “new appreciation for… more polished works” like those in this show. But even without that experience, there’s a lot to appreciate in this sweeping faculty exhibition. Philip Levine’s humorous and thoughtful Self-Portrait with a Loose Wire features the artist’s image pieced together in copper and steel and housed in a dirt-laced wood box. A hodgepodge of welded metal, frayed wire and electrical components frames the portrait, which is plugged in at the neck. Despite the suggestion of faulty circuitry, the artist’s face is remarkably alive. Its grommet eyes behind pouched metal eyelids and broken glasses are expressive and convincing, appearing to contemplate the viewer in turn.

Also sculpted in metal are Sharon Didato’s Un-Broken and Unspoken, both of which belie their titles. Un-Broken is very much broken—a miniature torso reminiscent of ancient Greek sculpture, pieced together from shards of what might have been a china teapot. But this dismembered torso has leaflike hammered copper wings, spread to suggest the possibility of flight, even though the assemblage is tethered to a steel base. Has it been pinned like a butterfly specimen, or will it escape? Beside it, Unspoken appears to have said too much. Its caged arms without a body hang listlessly from hooks. Two wilted bronze leaves suggest a surrender to which its mate, Un-Broken, has not yet succumbed.

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David Millen’s Vase of Flowers appears at first to be crafted of metal, too, but a closer look reveals a sculpture of ceramic and epoxy, painted to suggest gold leaf or oxidizing copper. Three oversized roses stretch from a tall, elegant vase. Their contorted petals and curling leaves almost seem to be wilting as you watch. These compelling Gothic forms are both beautiful and despairing in their irreversible, twisted decline.

I was drawn as well to two oil paintings: Steven DiGiovanni’s Refinery and Eric March’s King and Queen #2. The latter is a playful take on those life-sized pictures often found at carnivals and festivals with cutouts inviting visitors to insert their faces into the scene. March’s is a simple façade of Neptune and a mermaid. But whose faces are completing the image? A couple in the gallery on the other side of the wall?—no, they’re photographs—no, they’re realistic portraits in oil, complete with deeply shadowed faces squinting in the sun. Portraitist March not only tricks the eye but emphasizes the verisimilitude of his faces—and elicits a laugh in response.

Also painted in oil on canvas, Refinery is an imposing image of a maze of tanks and pipes overrun by leafy trees. The effect is post-apocalyptic yet at the same time nearly cheerful, with copper shining among sunlit green leaves. These two worlds—nature and industry—could be in conflict, but the painting feels more hopeful, more elaborate playground than industrial complex. Perhaps it’s a result of the radiant light, or the fact that the trees take the foreground. They may even be “refining” the scaffolded structure themselves. Either way, nature has the upper hand, the ability to regenerate and reclaim, in this narrative.

Connie Pfeiffer’s stitched, 2 is one of the show’s intriguing mixed media pieces. Four horizontal strips of white paper with ragged edges could be a simple abstract painting of black and red on white. A closer look reveals black surgical thread double- and triple-knotted, its clipped ends like tiny spikes surrounded by spatters of red droplets like blood. The paper background is pocked with pinholes. The image shifts from pretty and serene to troubling and sharp, evocative of pain and the time before healing begins.

There’s much more to see at In Range: Ruth Sack’s Blue, a fiberclay and encaustic wax construction of mottled blue spheres, one of them open-mouthed as if sucking in the air around it; Lucienne Coifman’s gorgeous woven silk and wool shawl and clutch, titled Another Wedding; Matt Stevens’s comic-style giclee print, The Angel of Death, in stylized twilight colors; Maura Galante’s layered mixed media lithographs; and Lily Kok-Forbush’s colorful, shapely watercolors, among others.

The range of media and artistic sensibilities is a testament to the breadth of CAW itself. Some fall classes in book arts, drawing and painting, fiber arts, photography, pottery, printmaking and sculpture as well as programs designed for young people are still open for registration—for those who want not just to see art but also to make it.

Photo Key:

1. A view of the exhibition’s first floor from the second.
2. King and Queen #2 by Eric March.
3. Narrow Neck Bottle by Stephen Rodriguez.
4. A view of the exhibition’s second floor.
5. Blue by Ruth Sack.
6. Refinery (detail) by Steven DiGiovanni.

In Range: Faculty Biennial
Creative Arts Workshop – 80 Audubon St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, Sat 9am-noon through November 9
(203) 562-4927…

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1 photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 2-6 photographed by Dan Mims.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts twice-weekly content for book clubs in her Substack newsletter, Better Book Clubs.

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