doodle tells a story: Tai Ling Chiang’s Girl Walking.
Arts Center of the Capital Region, through May 25
Ask any artist what is most important to them in their chosen
pursuit, and chances are you’ll get a response about the process.
Yet museums and galleries normally show only the end result
of that process, leaving most of the audience in the dark
as to how the works of art they view came into being.
But a new show at the Arts Center of the Capital Region cracks
open the studio door of eight intriguing artists and sheds
a little light on those mysteries. Co-curated by Williams
College Museum of Art staffer Lisa Dorin and
Center Gallery director Gina Occhiogrosso, Preliminary
Sketches itself was created through a long process involving
studio visits to determine who and what would be included.
The result is an ambitious gathering of very diverse styles
and media into a handsome (if somewhat messy) installation
in the center’s main gallery. For the viewer, it is a challenging
onslaught of words and sketches, collections and scraps and
ruminations, industrial elements and, yes, beautiful finished
works. There are paintings, sculptures, videos, photographs
and media you never thought could be used to make art (chewing
gum, for example, delicately imprinted with Chinese philosophical
statements), and it’s all quite a bit to absorb at one go.
But, hey, we know it’s not easy to make art (or be an artist),
so it makes sense that it should demand a little effort of
us if we want to better understand some of what goes into
the struggle. And, for the most part, this show amply rewards
Though there does not appear to be an overarching theme to
the artists and works chosen, there are a number of commonalities
to be found among them. Of the eight, four have created some
form of book, and a fifth’s series of collages suggest an
This last, Martin Bromirsky, is one of the more interesting
creators in this group and one whose work benefits greatly
from the contextual revelations available in the display.
His large, nearly abstract works on canvas are much easier
to interpret in the presence of several examples of source
material, including art books with reproductions of religious
imagery both Western and Eastern.
An accompanying text panel (there’s one for each artist, and
they’re well-written if a bit imperfectly edited) explains
that Bromirsky has taught in Japan for several years, where
space is extremely dear—hence his work from there is small-scale—and
that he usually manages to secure larger studio space on his
visits to the United States, where the larger paintings get
So, one understands the illustrated story as Japanese and
the abstracts as American, while seeing influence from both
spheres incorporated through scrap/sketchbooks (one of which
has been reproduced in its entirety to allow handling), photocopied
images and drawings on acetate. It’s an unpeeling of layers
that the artist’s busy curiosity and mobile lifestyle have
Far more simple on the face of it is the display devoted to
Karin Stack, who has made a mosaic of 48 similar soft grayish-brown
photos of a shaved head slowly returning to silky lushness.
A tiny flipbook assembles the photos for entertaining viewing—but
the back sides of these pages have biographical text (titled
Hair Stories) that delves into the reason for the hair
loss (cancer treatment) and the difficult process the artist
faced in acknowledging this physical manifestation of her
An accompanying video monitor plays an interview with Stack
(who is model-
pretty) discussing the making of the photographic mosaic and
the struggle she went through in connecting to and sharing
her inner and outer experiences of illness and transformation.
The other video in the show, by Tai Ling Chiang, also approaches
issues of identity through a haircut—but her story is less
specifically personal and more cultural than Stack’s. Watermelon
Skin describes the universal girl’s haircut that Chiang’s
generation wore while she was growing up in Taiwan, and presents
an array of questions about individuality, Taiwanese identity,
politics and rebellion.
Chiang’s video is a sort of stop-action animation made up
of many drawings, paintings and evocative sounds with narration.
Some of the drawings and paintings hang on a wall outside
the viewing room, revealing both a steady creative hand and
a great degree of exploration. It’s only a hint, but one gets
that privileged sense of seeing what ended up “on the cutting-room
floor” during the making of the short film.
Some of the displays show more of the process while others
are—ahem—sketchier. Angela Lorenz has crafted elaborate book
pieces that marry the conceptual and the beautiful by using
die-cut forms and materials from yarn to soap. Several vitrines
feature her books along with some of the evidence of the extensive
series of steps that went into making them.
Her works are so labor-intensive that they come with instructions
for the end user to follow, as Lorenz makes process an integral
part of the finished art.
Right next to Lorenz, Victoria Palermo’s exuberantly colorful
rubber sculptures are accompanied by explanatory text and
works in progress pulled right out of the studio, yet I still
ended up scratching my head trying to figure out how she makes
I know balloons are involved, and pouring, and suspension
with string but . . . well, maybe I’m just dense. The pieces
are so much fun to look at, it’s hard to believe it isn’t
fun to make them, too. But, in fact, it looks incredibly painstaking.
Perhaps the greatest quantity of preparatory material on display
is Tona Wilson’s. Wilson works as a courtroom Spanish-language
interpreter and in 1995 began obsessively making notes and
sketches from the cases she was working on. These are then
incorporated into her prints and paintings through a lengthy
process of translation and transformation.
A large display case containing countless sketchbooks, notes
and studies attests to the laborious nature of Wilson’s working
process. Many finished pieces are also shown; they are deeply
affecting portraits of a segment of American society rarely
dealt with in such a sensitive and empathetic way.
John McQueen and Joanne Carson round out the exhibition. Both
create three-dimensional interpretations of nature with wit,
innovative technical solutions and careful attention to detail.
Carson’s drawings glow with an otherworldly energy; McQueen
weaves bits of sticks and string into delicate and muscular
A gallery talk by Preliminary Sketches curators and
artists will be held from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, March
16, at the Arts Center.