View Finders

Eight artists take a look at Cleveland

Not everything in the Cleveland Artists Foundation show Painting the Town: Artists in Cleveland in the Late 20th Century is painted or shot from a roof or upper-story window, though aerial views are common here. Some are just the opposite, like the textural studies of architectural detail in Hugh Kepets' intaglio prints. But it's striking how point of view is often the essence as well as the pretext of these landscape depictions by a group of distinguished Cleveland artists (several of whom now live in New York) — whether it communicates the sweep and scope of a city, or the marriage of grit and geometry at a downtown street corner.

The installation of more than 30 paintings, drawings, prints and photographs curated by William Busta and CAF's Interim Director Lauren Hansgen is framed at opposite ends of the gallery by two on-the-ground action shots — views from the highway through the windows of a moving vehicle. One is a large, meticulously blurry charcoal-on-paper drawing titled "Unicum: Interstate, 2004" by Laurence Channing, showing not any part of a city, but a hillside covered with a tangle of barren trees, sloping up from a road streaked with shadows. The margins of the windshield and dashboard have been omitted, but the placement of the viewer is immediately obvious. This is what urban travelers see as they speed between more eventful (for them) places. The hill in Channing's work unscrolls like a glimpse of a foreign text.

At the other end of the long room, legible even from a distance, is Catherine Redmond's 1987 oil-on-canvas "Afternoon Sunlight: Simultaneous and Sequential." Four-fifths of the work is blue sky with a few scattered clouds, but toward the bottom, we see a typical stretch of I-90 or I-71. A red van is headed to the right along the other half of the highway, visible across a wide median. Beyond the van, we see a swath of institutional buildings, houses and trees. In the left foreground, a rearview mirror reflects a downtown view of a factory and a water tower. As in Channing's drawing, we know where we are, though it's odd to see these familiar fast-moving subjects given such duration. It's also unsettling to notice that not only the reflection in the mirror, but the entire painted image has been reversed.

A similar sense of disorientation is shared by much of the work in Painting the City, especially photographer Abe Frajndlich's six heat-sensitive infrared photographs from 1980. The aura of strangeness derives in part from the medium but also has to do with Franjdlich's subjects, which range from a tight, upward-slanting view of Noguchi's monumental sculpture "Portal" next to the Justice Center's impassive façade to an aerial view of a cat's cradle of railroad tracks, bridges and highways glowing with apocalyptic portent.

Cleveland-scapes created during the final two decades of the past century by David Buttram, Bonnie Dolin, Mary Lou Ferbert and Thomas R. Roese round out an exhibit of urban visions charged with a sense of underlying economic, social and psychological transformation. 

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