Report from…Falls Village, Connecticut
In the long slow summer of 2020 Kathleen Kucka, artist and former curator of the Shirley Fiterman Art Center at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, headed up to her 1850s country barn in Falls Village, Connecticut to make large scale works that would have been impossible for her in the city. During that time she discovered a unique building in the center of Falls Village that seemed to be lying fallow: A former post office, town hall, plumbing shop, and grocery store, this edifice was a bank just prior to the town acquiring it in the early 1960s. Twenty years ago, the Canaan Board of Selectmen began renting spaces on the first-floor to artists for their studios. Kucka saw a unique opportunity to bring artists she admired in the city to her own doorstep and in the process add life to her Connecticut community. An introduction to the powers that be led to a meeting with the town council, and before she knew it, she had herself a gallery.
Its name, Furnace/Art on Paper Archive refers to the town’s history as an iron smelting center while specifying her curatorial mission. The 22 by 19 foot gallery has high ceilings that make the room feel airy and welcoming with lots of natural north light. The clean white flat files that hold the “archive” of works on paper by gallery artists, is prominent without taking up wall space and lets visitors know that there is much more to see than immediately meets the eye. In addition to her gallery space, Kucka has also taken hold of the bank vault as an exhibition space, accessed through a hallway where the Falls Village Café is about to be added.
Stephen Maine was the subject of the inaugural show at Furnace/Art on Paper Archive in May. The former Brooklyn-based artist and art critic and his wife, artist Gelah Penn, now live nearby. Titling his show “Cupcake Uptake and the Cloud of Unknowing”, Maine presented a selection of paintings on paper and two canvases.
His process-based abstract idiom combines the arbitrariness of chance with his acute aesthetic sensibility. Maine describes his practice deftly:
Some years ago, it occurred to me that conveying paint to canvas by means of a system that uses printing plates instead of brushes . . .yields the great pleasure of surprise while providing a concrete way to think about color, surface, scale, seriality, figure/ground, original/copy, and the psychology of visual perception.
When I look at these works, the artist Ingrid Calame comes to mind: Her tracings of actual shapes made by the every-day wear and tear on a typical sidewalk results in an all-over abstract pattern with a pristine graphic quality that belies the grittiness of their source. In Maine’s images, however, the organic patterns feel first hand, rather than mediated, in layer upon layer of mind-bending technicolor that protrudes from the surface like the buildup on any well-trodden road. Blobs sit on top of other blobs, creating not only the illusion of dimensionality with drop shadows, but actual dimensionality. They beckon scrutiny and reward the viewer with multifaceted incidents of color and form. His combinations of saturated color create dissonant vibrations that are mesmerizing and seductive and not a little jarring.
On the wall to the left as you walked into the space were four beautifully framed pieces (all of the works on paper are untitled, approximately 22 x 18 inches). They led you to the far wall facing the door and a six and half foot tall canvas, P17-0302 (2017) whose gorgeous aquamarine and ochre complemented, rather than detracted from the works on paper, adding to the sense of galactic immersion he masters in both scales. A further small canvas in bright red and green kept company with several more framed works on paper, as well as unframed paintings from the same series easily accessible in the flat files.
The show has a cohesiveness that illuminates the breadth and depth of possibilities Maine has been able to mine from this very specific and idiosyncratic method and yields an infinite combination of colorful possibilities that inspire reverie at a time we could all do with more of that.
Furnace/Art on Paper Archive, 107 Main Street, Falls Village, CT. Gallery hours: Friday–Sunday, 11:00–4:00