W. P. "Pete" Jennerjahn

7/18/07

Kay Liss

With the current exhibition, the gallery leaps into another category of sophistication all together. The exhibit, entitled Up From New York, displays some impressive work from artists who were prominent in the New York art scene in the 1940's and 50's and whose work was shown and/or is in collections at such premier institutions as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of Art (in New York City), and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. And at least two of the artists, Joseph Fiore and Charles DuBack, have strong connections to Maine, Fiore having summered in Jefferson with family for nearly 50 years and Charles DuBack summering in Tenants Harbor for a long time. The thread tying together the six artists in the show are that they all studied or taught at Black Mountain College, the iconoclastic school near Asheville, N.C., that was a unique experiment in education from the 1930's to the '50's. Such maverick artistic spirits as Willem de Kooning, Merce Cunningham in dance and Buckminister Fuller of geodesic dome fame, spent time teaching there. Fiore taught painting and drawing at the college from 1946 to 1956. The show presents a fascinating evolution of his work from the 50's to the present. However, it doesn't follow what one may think of as a logical and typical trajectory - from roughly realistic to abstract. The earliest works are abstract expressionistic in style, then in the 60's he experimented with a more impressionistic style of landscape painting, evidenced in oils such as "Ledges and Stream." From the 70's, there's a medley of styles on display, from the more impressionistic "Woods" to the more abstract and geometric "Sunset Through Cloud Band." In the 1980's, Fiore was playing with shapes and colors, departing from the more rigid Neo-Plasticism ideals of the color field painters like Josef Albers, a Black Mountain teacher himself for many years. Paintings such as "Sikeytaki," from 1984, have a more organic feeling. Many of the works from the 90's continue this style - fun, Paul Klee-like paintings of mysterious markings and figures within curved color field spaces, a wonderful example being "Winter Solstice XI," its glyph-like creatures in a brown-gray background reminding one of ancient cave paintings. John Urbain studied matiere under Albers, an art form using different materials to explore geometric design in a three dimensional expression. Wallpapers, book covers and even metals were combined to create works of rich texture and interesting pattern juxtapositions. Collage works on display are from the 70's through the present and are quite similar in style, except perhaps that later ones, such as "Three Roses" from 2000, are less geometric and more organic. All of this viewer's favorites are from the 80's, in particular "Brown Sun," "Yellow Figure" and "Purple Strip." DuBack, primarily a painter, has mostly drawings on display, from the 1980's to the present. They are dark and dramatic, such works as "Haze" depicting trees wildly swaying in the wind. He also has a number of watercolors in the show representing a more abstract style. DuBack, represented by the Greenhut Gallery in Portland, has shown widely both in Maine and in New York, including at the Whitney and MOMA. Elaine Schmitt Urbain was a student at Black Mountain where she met her future husband, John. She spent time as an artist in Paris and has lithographs on display depicting scenes from her life there. They exude a lively, gay atmosphere in that unmistakably French artistic manner. Elaine's sister, Elizabeth, also studied at the college and met her future husband, Pete Jennerjahn, there. She was probably more involved with dance than with art, studying with Merce Cunningham while there. A large impressionistic oil of hers is included in the exhibit. Similarly, Jennerjahn was involved with music more than art, taking classes from the minimalist composer John Cage at Black Mountain. A few of his abstract paintings are in the show.