Abstraction in visual art is far from new, but many area artists are using it to produce rich and meaningful work. In western art, from the pioneering experiments of the fascinating Swedish mystic Hilma af Klint, to Russian Suprematism, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Op Art, even Land Art, etc., we have seen wide-ranging developments in both form and content. Three artists here—in printmaking, painting, and sculpture—make it clear that abstraction can still make for a vibrant, first-hand art experience. Mark Keffer Class of 88'
Wind Over Water 24 x 54”, relief monoprint, 2019
Printmaker Lisa Schonberg has developed a number of engaging directions in her work, with an aesthetic that leans toward the organic, contemplative, and abstract. The imagery she explores can be seen as a personal interpretation of natural forms. Wind and water patterns, plant-and coral-like allusions and non-representational elements are prominent and come together in compelling ways that rest comfortably between abstraction and representation. The prints offer an almost dreamlike parallel to our known realities, and in the process use art as a positive conduit for reflection and hope. Often, beauty is present for its own sake, which is an appealing and thoughtful counterbalance to a troubled world. At times Schonberg creates work that conveys active movement, even turbulence, but never without a sense of control and harmony. A generally softened color palette effectively compliments her use of shape, line, and pattern, which one can assume is reflective of her reverent relationship to the natural source of the imagery she utilizes.
As she states:
I don’t make art that merely records what I see. I am mostly interested in developing new ways of thinking and feeling about our world. For me, making art is about celebrating nature and contemplating our connections to it while hopefully communicating a sense of awe, mystery and peacefulness. I explore image making by combining various different printmaking processes such as relief, intaglio, monoprinting, and screen-printing to create one-of-a-kind prints or “variable editions”. My prints include such phenomena as water currents, earth formations, abstract and tangled foliage, along with other natural patterned and textured ephemera. At times, the prints are about places I’ve visited that elicit an emotional impression of the natural environment inherent in that place. I am inspired by the multitude of patterns and textures associated with these places and the light, shadows, reflections, and colors that draw me in for a closer look. Most of these regions or places have environmentally compelling stories of both beauty and survival.
Lisa Schonberg received an MFA degree in Printmaking from Kent State University and a BFA from Ohio University. She currently teaches at Baldwin Wallace University and Notre Dame College of Ohio. She recently had a solo exhibition at Stillpoint Gallery, Cleveland and two-person shows at Kendall Gallery and FAVA Gallery, both in Oberlin, Ohio. She was included in the inaugural CAN (Creative Arts Network) Triennial in Cleveland in 2018. Other exhibitions include the Morgan Paper Conservatory, Cleveland; Artist Archives of the Western Reserve, Cleveland; Feuerwache Loschwitz Gallery, Loschwitz, Germany; HeightsArts, Cleveland Heights; Sandusky Cultural Center, Sandusky, Ohio; Zygote Press Gallery, Cleveland; and the Canton Art Institute, Canton, Ohio, among others. Her work is in collections including The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Grafikwerkstatt Printmaking Studios (Dresden, Germany), Ohio Arts Council, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, and MetroHealth Hospital of Cleveland. www.lisamschonberg.com
Capturing the Wind 17 x 63”, relief monoprint collage, 2018
Off Kilter, Nesting Wings 14 x 11”, handmade paper, pulp painting and relief monoprint, 2018
Contrast acrylic, latex, fabric on wood, 16 x 18 x 4”, 2017
Found materials have been favored over traditional art materials by many artists in the past, but the work of Grace Summanen brings a distinct and purposeful sensibility to this practice. Her manipulated and painted fabric configurations occupy a space between standard distinctions of painting and sculpture. The work presents scenarios that are at once familiar and strange, known but evocative of another, entirely invented, reality. Her past work involved a wider array of found objects, but currently she displays a greater sense of focus and honed exploration. The fabrics she incorporates serve as a peculiar and engaging kind of structure onto which she employs a heavily involved painting process. The results reveal the history of their making and an involvement that transcends the sum of their parts. In some cases, there is a sense that the paintings are simultaneously a depiction of imagery while existing as that imagery itself. This seems related to the way in which Jasper Johns' paintings of flags and targets are depictions of those subjects while at the same time being, in a sense, flags and targets. This can result in an oddly heightened sense of reality and can promote ruminations on the very nature of reality and perception.
Summanen describes her work:
My work blurs the lines between high and low art by using everyday objects and materials. I create my painting surfaces with fabric, plastic bags, toilet paper tubes, or scrap paper. My installations include these same materials. We live in a mass-producing, consuming, and purging society. It is a part of who I am; who we all are. I want the viewer to investigate what materials are used to create the artwork and change how they think about our every-day objects. We need to see the magic that surrounds us. Currently in my paintings, I have been using folded fabric as a means to explore texture, line and movement. I have used curtains, blankets, and scraps from other projects. Different fabrics allow for experimentation with multiple textures and paint applications. Traditionally in painting, fabric is a common still life subject; but instead of painting the illusion of the fabric, I am painting the fabric itself. This abstracts the subject matter for inspection, exploration, and transformation. I am also interested in the traditional associations with feminine crafts.
Grace Summanen earned an MFA from Kent State University in 2011. Her BFA, with a minor in English, was from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She also attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She teaches at Lake Erie College, Lakeland Community College, and the University of Akron. Recent exhibitions include a three-person show at Zygote Press in Cleveland; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas; The Painting Center, NYC; Heights Arts, Cleveland Heights; SPACES, Cleveland; and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, among numerous others. Her work is in the collections of cARTa (Cleveland Art Association); MetroHealth, Cleveland; Case Western Reserve University; Kent State University School of Art, and private collections. www.gracesummanen.com
Stripes acrylic, latex, fabric on canvas, 32 x 40 x 4”, 2018-19
Lace acrylic, latex, fabric on wood, 9 x 12 x 4”, 2018-19
Mad Garden press board, steel, cast rubber, enamel paint, 8’ x 10” x 16”, 2019
Abstraction takes on a kind of idiosyncratic industrial flavor in the work of Jason Lee. His sculptures involve a good deal of skill and knowledge regarding various processes used in their fabrication, but the merit of this work is not exclusive to the way in which it is made. There is an especially interesting and open-ended nature to the mindset at work here and a refreshing reluctance to define meaning in literal terms. Too often, visual artists create work to convey language-based meaning, without fully appreciating the extent to which the medium is its own language and can communicate meaning on its own terms. This is a strength of abstraction, but of course, it occurs in representational art as well. Some of Lee’s work contains representational elements and frequently references idealized aspects of suburban America—modular homes, green lawns, picket fences, etc. These stereotypical images were a significant influence on him, despite their lack of authenticity.
My current body of work reflects on the suburban landscape of my childhood. The constructed environment mimics elements and color schemes of the skateboard pseudo-culture that was sold to the rabid and disenfranchised youth of the 80’s by pop media. This pristine wonderland of suburbia did not reflect my experience…
The further his work moves into abstraction, the less obvious these influences become. This lack of specificity can be challenging, but can also be a welcome and freeing quality. The viewer is not led by a clear-cut narrative and can experience the work in a more all-encompassing sense; one that more accurately reflects life experience. In a piece titled I Hope You Learned Something, the artist cryptically references as an inspiration time spent working for his father’s sideshow circus growing up, and also claims a connection to Joseph Beuys, an important pioneer in installation and performance art. This approach allows for a direct response while inviting further thought and investigation. The piece Suburban Home isolates a fragment that resembles the surface of such a home and displays it prominently as an autobiographical slice of the past. It creates a wonderful paradox in which memory, a fragmentary and nebulous mechanism, is referenced through a physically solid and finite means.
Jason Lee received an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a BFA from Kent State University. He is currently Associate Professor of Art, and Sculpture Foundations Coordinator at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia. He formerly taught at Kent State. He recently showed work in Kent at the KSU Downtown Gallery in the juried Alumni Show. He has shown extensively on the national level, with solo exhibitions held at Syracuse University, New York; Clark Arts Center, Rockford, Illinois; University of North Carolina, Charlotte, North Carolina; NOLA Contemporary Art Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana; Arlington Arts Center, Arlington, Virginia; UB Anderson Gallery, Buffalo, New York; and the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art, among others. Numerous group exhibitions include the Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, West Virginia; Manifest Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio; Artist Image Resource, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; FSU Museum of Art, Tallahassee, Florida; and the Contemporary Arts Collective, Las Vegas, Nevada. He has won a number of awards for merit, research, and teaching in his work as an artist and educator. www.jleesculpture.com
Suburban Home steel, embossed paper, screenprint, aluminum, cast plastic, 8’ x 3’ x 3’, 2015
I Hope You Learned Something packing blankets, ratchet straps, steel, cast plastic, aluminum, 4’ x 3’ x 3’ (each unit), 2018. Back: Blatant Localism, steel, Bondo, luan, 24” x 20” x 10”, 2018