City Wide Open Studios 2010

Artspace's 13th City-Wide Open Studios – from a few angles.

Ben Hecht

Ben Hecht, like Karen Dow and Christopher Mir, works out of a garage that’s been converted into a studio. (New Haven artists who work out of converted garages, raise your hands!) One of the best things about visiting a studio, I have discovered, is to see works in progress–to be able to visualize how the artist turns a blank canvas into finished work. Here is one of Hecht’s in-progress pieces, after just a few passes.

Here’s another after many more passes.

And here’s a finished piece:

Hecht explained to me (as he did to a previous poster) that in some of his paintings, like the one of the jacket, he’s interested in exploring the difference between fantasy and reality—the truth of what happened versus the stories we make up when we want to fill in the blanks. The jacket was his grandfather’s; he mentioned how difficult it was to square the reality that he’d served with the man he knew, and then to square that again with the image we have of what fighting in war is like. Thus the lighting—one source natural, one artificial. Illuminating things differently.

We can all relate, can we not? My great-uncle served on a destroyer in World War II; he said once he could see the face of the kamikaze coming for his ship. But I remember him in an easy chair, in the hospital. I once worked with a British man, too, who said he’d been a soccer hooligan, a soldier. When I met him, he was teaching conversational English in Japan. Hard to square. Less hard when he showed me one day that half his teeth were false; just flipped them out of his mouth, under some severe fluorescent lighting. But still hard.

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Karen Dow and Christopher Mir

Karen Dow and Christopher Mir are married and share space in their garage, which they converted into a studio. Three of Mir’s paintings look like this—

—and this—

—and this.

And two of Karen Dow’s paintings look like this—

—and this.

Nothing in common, right? Wrong.

Mir’s paintings start from collages he makes in Photoshop, from found images, pictures he takes himself (he had one of the collages out for spectators to see; sadly, my brain wasn’t yet functioning enough to understand that I should have taken a picture of it for you to see; people, please blame me). Why paint them then, I asked. Part of it was what Mir called a commitment to painting as an art form. But another part of it, he explained, is that painting the collages forced the eye to see the images first as coherent wholes, to take them in all at once. In doing so, Mir was able to riff on the surrealist premise that there is, after all, such a thing as the unconscious, and that there should be room to play, to get lost in a thing without having to impose meaning on it right away.

Dow told me that once she too had been a more realist painter, but over time, she grew steadily more abstract, more interested in form and color than in depicting images; part of the reason, it seemed, was the same playing with meaning. See a painting of a chair, you think, “hey, that’s a chair.” See a painting of something that’s harder to read, and it’s harder to know what to think.

And Dow, like Mir, starts from collages; from photographs. Here’s a photograph Dow was working from—

—and here’s the painting.

Another photograph—

—and another painting.

On the way out, I mentioned to Dow how my own taste in art was moving toward more abstract paintings. She said something casually about how she likes the way more abstract paintings work in a room, because a realistic painting is like a window to another place, while an abstract painting changes the place you’re in. I understood what she meant; she said easily what I’d been trying to formulate for myself. And I thought of how similar both Dow and Mir were—different approaches, but the same interest, in getting us to look differently.

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