Riverhead exhibit: Art for nature’s sake

10/21/2012 8:00 AM |

Ulf Skogsbergh photo
Ulf Skogsbergh and Hope Sandrow collaborated on work stemming from Ms. Sandrow’s ongoing project ‘Open Air Studio’: Ms. Sandrow collected molted feathers of rare Paduan birds in glass jars.

“Nature Incorporated,” at Art Sites in Riverhead, celebrates the launch of Peconic Green Growth, a not-for-profit organization founded by gallery director Glynis Berry to promote a sustainable environment. The artists invited to participate answered the call with provocative works in media as varied as Mother Nature.

Expect the unexpected.

Like feathers — hundreds of them, sorted by color and preserved in six gleaming bell jars. They’re plumes gathered by Hope Sandrow of Southampton from rare Paduan birds that live and lay their eggs freely in her ongoing project “Open Air Studio,” a habitat this conceptual artist created to protect an endangered species.

These delicate silken specimens are also writ large in two enormous photographs taken by Ulf Skogsbergh in collaboration with his wife, Ms. Sandrow. Each breathtaking image magnifies a single feather; one, caramel-hued, its shaft like polished ivory, arcs across 16 feet of wall space. These grand images capture in a tiny wisp the exquisite beauty, complexity and fragility of life.

Sculptor Robert Oxnam, another artist who allows nature’s original intentions to prevail, coaxes to the surface the expressive life of gnarled weathered tree roots. He finds them embedded in sand along the shoreline near his Southold home and says, “They don’t look like much at first.”

But Mr. Oxnam, a renowned Asia scholar, intuits in wood the same spiritual energy ancient Chinese scholars saw within the archaic stones they prized and collected for meditation.

In the asymmetrical balance of works such as “Echo,” Mr. Oxnam similarly locates in wood the yin and yang in nature that so fascinated Chinese thinkers and philosophers. His intensive process involves cleaning the sand-clotted decaying find, then experimenting with the form to find its physical and visual balance point. He then applies layers of organic milk paint and gently burnishes the surface with wax to reveal its texture. He keeps going until the form says, “You’re done; this is what I have to say.”

Two artists in this show deal directly with environmental issues. Sag Harbor artist Nina Yankowitz’s video projection, “Global Warming Window,” creates a virtual window through which viewers watch a light evening drizzle morph into a hideous torrential storm with driving winds, lightning and horrific sound effects. When the deluge ends, a salmon-pink house basks in the light of day as a waterfall gushes through a first-story window.

But then, along comes Southold eco-artist Lillian Ball to stem Armageddon’s tide. Ms. Ball has achieved national acclaim for her trademarked Waterwash projects. Southold Town residents continue to enjoy the first one that reclaimed the ecosystem at the mouth of Mattituck inlet and created a parklike setting.

For her second Waterwash environment, in the Bronx, Ms. Ball again used permeable material with colorful recycled glass for paved areas. This composite reduces runoff and filters pollutants, preventing them from re-entering precious waterways.

It also makes great sculpture. Ms. Ball, originally a conceptual artist, gathered the excess recycled glass and sand used in the casting process — it would have been discarded — to create “Waterwash Outtakes,” a sparkling abstract work, for this exhibition.

Painter Scott McIntire of Greenport sees nature coexisting with “energy fields.” He explains: “If I’m looking at a flower or a building, I’m taking in the sounds and smells around me, responding to energy from cellphone towers and telephone lines. I want to bring those things into my work.”

In some works energy harnessed by technology appears to respect nature, but in “Considering Global Warming,” it instead portends an apocalyptic flooding of New York City. In this enamel painting, a stingray dominates the sea as the Chrysler Building sinks beneath the blue. Surreal circles of radiant light send out radiating signals, vagrant electronic voices of a once high-tech civilization.

Works on paper include one-of-a-kind lithographs by Andrea Cote of Flanders and watercolor sketches by Hideaki Ariizumi. Ms. Cote, a multimedia and performance artist, created six “Body Print Mandalas” by first making rubber molds of her body parts that she then applied to lithographic plates and printed.

The results suggest abstract Oriental motifs meant to inspire meditation and convey a sense of spiritual oneness and unity. Ms. Cote’s variation on the theme suggests fine embroidery or drawing: an ephemeral presence, delicate and fragile.

Hideaki Ariizumi is Ms. Berry’s husband, an architect and Art Sites partner. This well-deserved first exhibition of his interior and exterior watercolor sketches reveals a practical artist diagramming the solution to a problem yielding to the intuitive abstract artist who finds poetry in the relationship between shape and space. “Intertwining,” for example, presents a loose cubist idea of a house placed within a greenhouse.

This three-layered environment consisting of two architectural forms conceptualizes the integration of an interior set within a landscape and a landscape set within an enclosed environment.

Tracy Heneberger of Brooklyn is well known for his wall-hung assemblages made from resin- and bronze-cast organic materials, including but not limited to sharks’ jaws, sardines, vegetables, antlers, staples and squid.

His “Portraits” show, given a room of its own, features “Oblique,” a wall corsage of bronze mushrooms, and “Bouffant,” a compote of pomegranates resting in a grapevine root. It recalls the tradition of Dutch still-life painting — the kind with juicy apples and oranges, bathed in light and so real-looking it tempts the viewer to pluck a fruit from its frame.

But Mr. Heneberger’s sculptural equivalents, aglow with epoxy and metal, give one pause. This is forbidden fruit, deliberately so, to remind us of the need to protect the vulnerable natural world.

“Nature Incorporated” runs through Dec. 16 and includes “Inspired by Old China: Gardens and Rocks,” a free talk at Art Sites by Mr. Oxnam at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20. Reservations are suggested; call 631-591-2401.

‘Nature Incorporated’
On view through Dec. 16 at Art Sites, 651 West Main St., Riverhead. Featuring work by Hideaki Ariizumi, Lillian Ball, Andrea Cote, Scott McIntire, Robert Oxnam, Hope Sandrow and Ulf Skogsbergh, and Nina Yankowitz, and ‘Portraits’ by Tracy Heneberger.

‘Considering Global Warming’ by Scott McIntire

‘Global Warming Window’ by Nina Yankowitz

‘Bouffant’ by Tracy Heneberger

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