Friday, June 24, 2011

REVIEW: Edward Koren and Fulvio Testa at Big Town Gallery in Rochester

Cartoon Bestiary and Moody Landscapes

by Dian Parker

Why see art? Why go to art galleries, buy art, hang art on your walls? As one of my painter friends said, "There are already too many images in the world," so she rushes through art galleries only stopping at what moves her. Some people never go to galleries. I go because it invariably feeds something new to me that is not always observable in everyday life. It tweaks my view of the world, if only for a moment. I feel different when I look at art, far different than at any other time. Whether I like the work or not, I get a kick out of all individual expression and the human desire to create.

Art stimulates and rouses our curiosity. Without it we are poorer, whether the form of art be music, theatre, the visual arts, cooking, gardening, or even the ways we teach our children. We all strive to express. Art may not be necessary for us to survive but it is certainly necessary in order that we thrive and flourish. It fills us out. It feeds and sparks our imaginations, inspiring us to create, and creating makes us happy. Just look at the joy of a child’s imagination. It certainly gives me joy to see creativity expressed, in all forms: tractor parts, hay bales, a story, a concerto, paintings, and even cartoons.

Currently showing at the Big Town Gallery in Rochester are some of the original drawings of a longtime resident of Vermont, Edward Koren, best known for his cartoons and covers for The New Yorker magazine. His first cartoon in The New Yorker was 50 years ago! In this show, his fanciful furry creatures ride bicycles, dance and give speeches. Mini dramas, not unlike commedia dell’arte, the comedy of manners, where actors do their shtick with grande pomposity and elan.

As I stood before each drawing, mostly in ink and some quite large, 26" x 40", I laughed out loud. Koren’s work tickles and teases. I found myself making up captions for the work and going back to reexamine the horns on his characters’ wild heads and the way the clever beasts hold their bicycle handlebars, intently pedaling - a theatrical romp done with a wry wit. Each drawing is mounted on cut mat board which is a pleasing way of displaying the drawings and far less expensive if you choose to buy a piece. A comprehensive retrospective of his work is presently showing at the Fleming Museum in Burlington as well.

Also showing with Koren are 23 abstract watercolor landscapes by the Italian artist, Fulvio Testa. Testa was born in Verona, Italy and now lives 6 months of the year in New York City. His paintings are small (also not framed but mounted on white board), averaging 12" x 10". I preferred the work he painted this year to his older work. They show an evolution which is wonderful to see in any artist’s work. His moody watercolors are modest and delicate, evoking dreamy, allusive landscapes that could be imaginary or real. His colors are dense and often saturate the paper. I especially liked his "Untitled 14", "15" and "16", sensual washes of color and stroke, all three painted this year.

The pairing of these two creators is insightful. Both are gestural artists showing us the world in a flourish. Whereas Koren wryly observes society; Testa’s work are emotional, inner landscapes. You don’t have to like any of the work to like the show. As I said, art stimulates the palate, prodding us to dream up our own inner landscapes or to take our own maniacal bike ride, horned creatures that we are. The show runs till July 10.
This review was first published in the Randolph Herald, June 23, 2011 Images: Ed Koren, Untitled 26.25”x 40.25”, ink on Fabiano; Fulvio Testa, Untitled 15, 13 1/2” x 9 3/8” Photos by Dian Parker