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Amid/In WNY is an embarrassment of riches

Getting to visit an artist’s studio is a beautiful thing, as the space is often a laboratory for successes and failures, where the polished finished product sits among the newly conceived and the barely realized. As John Massier, Hallwalls visual arts curator, noted in an interview earlier this year, “You never know what crazy wonderful [stuff] you’ll encounter when you enter into someone’s private space. But that’s the whole point of stepping through the looking glass.” Its with this thought that Massier, and his co-curators Kyle Butler and Rebecca Wing have embarked on 141 regional studio visits over the last year, creating the Amid/In WNY 2015 exhibition series, the fifth installment of which is currently on view at Hallwalls until Dec. 18.

This latest exhibition, still pieced together with the same casual approach that has marked their previous shows, offers pleasing cohesion. There are certain thematic and contextual threads that run throughout, threads that either overlap, or run parallel to each other, but that always maintain a thought provoking proximity. From the geologic, primordial world to the man-made structures that we place upon it, this exhibition oscillates between the organic and the synthetic.

Three of the largest works in the show, striking wall paintings by Julian Montague, each show a different geologic phenomenon in his trademark hard-edged, modernist style. It’s a style that lends a quiet stillness to these monumental events, evoking an understated reverence for them.

Pat Kewley also references the natural world but through a contradictory route. In slapdash, cartoon like renderings he draws the faces of explorers from days past, who through extraordinary effort sought to discover, conquer or understand the types of phenomena that Montague is referencing. Mark Lavatelli gives us encaustic monotypes, with the natural world brought into more minute focus, creating abstractions of twisting, entwining tree branches, that in some works bring to mind other organic systems such as the intricate network of blood vessels in the body.

Peter Sowiski’s powerful paintings done on delicate pulp bring to mind the clashing of vague, unknown forces. While he is often referencing military hardware, his works have an underlying primordial feel to them. In Service Figure - Run, 2012 a central dark blur of a figure is in motion, pure energy and physicality running towards the viewer. The lack of identity or clarity adds to the ominous feel of the work. Is this friend or foe barreling toward us and from what horror is he running? Natural or man-made?

Laura Borneman’s vibrant abstractions are structural in nature, almost architectural, while still having a bit of an organic, unprocessed feel, as she explores the psychological aspects of interior spaces and our pervasive, anxiety inducing need for stability and stasis; the supposed antidote to natures transience.

J. Tim Raymond also references the military as he appropriates architectural diagrams torn from a book and supper imposes over them childish military like sketches from a book he found at AmVets.

Marissa Tirone’s carved wood piece re-imagines the city through abstracted cut out shapes, that end up looking like some sort of code, simultaneously invoking ambiguous technologies. Mickey Harmon’s also takes as his subject the urban in Minecraft Buffalo, turning our familiar world into the ultimate digital expression by painstakingly recreating downtown Buffalo, playfully blurring the lines between the two between the real world and the digital.

If the Amid/In WNY series has taught us anything, it’s that we are positively flush with talented artists in this region, as the past five exhibitions have given us a sweeping, practically in real-time look at the work that is being created right under our noses. It’s an embarrassment of riches really, one that we get to revel in every few months, thanks to the tireless curatorial exploration of Massier, Butler and Wing.

What: Amid/In WNY 2015 – Part 5

Where: Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, 341 Delaware Ave.

When: Through Dec. 18

Admission: Free


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