Americans Looking In at The Center for Book Arts

In Dialogue with Emilie Ahern and Sherri Littlefield


The curators, Emilie Ahern (left) and Sherri Littlefield (right), stand in the exhibition space among the works from Americans Looking In. Photo credit: Andrew Littlefield

In the thought-provoking group show Americans Looking In at the Center for Book Arts the curators Emilie Ahern and Sherri Littlefield explore what it means to be “American” mostly through media such as photography, book art, sculpture and prints. Their personal experience of coming from multicultural backgrounds and growing up in the States has prompted them to ask the question – What is American culture today, and what does an American look like?

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Bonny Leibowitz – Not This, Not That, Yet This and That

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Bonny Leibowitz

Bonny Leibowitz makes site responsive sculptural installations with painterly sensibility – they hover in the air, spill on the floor, or sprawl on the walls. Her love of Baroque compositions, Abstract Expressionist gestures is underscored throughout her work. Bonny Leibowitz had a long-standing interest in the illusory nature of experience and the supposition of stability. In Terra Unfirma, her most recent body of work, she tackles what it means to deconstruct expectations and perceptions by using a variety of materials which play off one another – natural appearing manufactured, manufactured appearing natural – constructing environments which may feel ephemeral, eternal, fleeting, solid, light or looming at the same time. The artist refers to this quote: “Everything worth knowing is cloaked in paradox because everything substantial defies being revealed in its totality” – Mark Nepo


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In My Room – Susan Carr at LABspace

A Photo story


Installation view of In My Room

Upon entering In My Room, Susan Carr’s solo show at LABspace in Hillsdale, NY, my senses are overloaded in the best way by the colorful and tactile work. The gallery is teeming with an impressive amount of work that fills the walls, floor, and pedestals. As I walk around, I am greeted with the fond familiar smell of fresh oil paint— thick, bold, and often mixed on the surface. This application is important to the overall sensation of Carr’s work. It makes me grasp the immediacy and the confidence that are necessary to make the work. Squeezing paint directly from the tube onto the canvas requires a commitment from the artist and Carr dives in headfirst to create paintings of zombies, clowns, self-portraits, and eyeballs.

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Aisha Tandiwe Bell in Domestic Brutes at Pelham Art Center

In Dialogue with Aisha Tandiwe Bell

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Aisha Tandiwe Bell is interested in the many manifestations of the traps of race, sex, and class. She makes drawings, paintings, ceramic sculptures, installations, and performance work that examine the metaphors and the allegory that this trap manifests. In her newest work Aisha Tandiwe Bell’s is looking at how one might negotiate traps, utilizing shape shifting, and code-switching as well as looking at identifying markers that both separate and unify. She says, “I am a Black African American Jamaican Woman Artist Wife and Mother. These are all categories that I consistently juggle and negotiate in a white male dominated space.” Aisha Tandiwe Bell is participating in Domestic Brutes at Pelham Art Center.

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Melissa Stern in Domestic Brutes at Pelham Art Center

In Dialogue with Melissa Stern

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NYC Studio, with the sculpture WIG SHOP

Melissa Stern is an artist, working in mixed materials and across genres. She is interested in ideas that are simultaneously funny and dark- that is, “work that might make you smile or laugh, but with a wee bit of discomfort,” as she puts it. Much of her work of recent years focuses on home and childhood and the ways in which our childhoods and our memories haunt our lives. She works in clay, found objects, wood, metal collage and various drawing materials. Her goal is that the materials she uses are at the service of the ideas. On a different note she says, “I am an only child, raised by older parents who were first generation Americans. My mother desperately wanted to be ‘American’. My father was very connected to his European heritage. This push and pull; between belonging and being an outsider has profoundly influenced my life as an artist.” Melissa Stern is participating in Domestic Brutes at Pelham Art Center.

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Tirtzah Bassel in Domestic Brutes at Pelham Art Center

In Dialogue with Tirtzah Bassel

Tirtzah Bassel grew up in Israel, the oldest of eight in a Jewish Orthodox family. Her father is a traditional scribe and her mother, a ballet dancer by training, was the homemaker when they were growing up. Although both of her parents were very creative and the value of making things by hand was instilled early on, she didn’t know any professional artists and had no concept that making art was something she could do as an adult. This changed when she took a night class at the Jerusalem Studio School in her early twenties. She recalls how she was immediately drawn to the intensity of the atelier-style learning environment, drawing and painting from observation, and the methods of the Old Master paintings. She later decided to pursue an MFA at Boston University and subsequently moved to Brooklyn. “Perhaps it was the continuous traversing of worlds – religious and secular, Israel and the US, Hebrew and English – that led me to ground my work in close observation of seemingly mundane situations,” she says.

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Diana Schmertz in Domestic Brutes at Pelham Art Center

In Dialogue with Diana Schmertz

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Diana Schmertz in front of America’s Social Contract at Novado Gallery. Laser cut watercolor painting on paper, 7 panels painted front & back, 28 x 16 inches each ©2017

Diana Schmertz has always been interested in systems that people create to organize what they perceive in the world around them — based in science, religion, psychology, philosophy or politics. The artist says that no matter how cerebral a system or an idea may appear, it is always experienced through our physical senses and in order to communicate balance between reason and senses, she paints imagery of the body expressing emotional understanding juxtaposed with systems of verbal and/or mathematical reasoning. In Domestic Brutes, the women group show at Pelham Art Center Diana Schmertz shows a painting installation. Her virtual artist talk hosted by PAC is scheduled for October 8th.

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Ashley Norwood Cooper in Domestic Brutes at Pelham Art Center

In Dialogue with Ashley Norwood Cooper

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”How to Draw Your Shoe”, oil on panel, 36” x 30”, 2020.

Ashley Norwood Cooper is an artist and a mother, raising three teenagers in a small town in upstate NY. Her paintings have always dealt with family and home and how the personal connects us to the global and political. She is interested in the schizophrenic role of the artist-mother-wife-teacher and in how to redefine the heroic from a woman’s perspective. Ashley Norwood Cooper is participating in Domestic Brutes and she will present her work in a virtual studio visit hosted by Pelham Art Center on Thursday, October 15th, 5-6pm.

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Manju Shandler in Domestic Brutes at Pelham Art Center

In Dialogue with Manju Shandler


Manju Shandler working on Persistent Mothers in her studio in Brooklyn, NY 2020. Photo Stephen Estrin.

Manju Shandler creates symbolic art that speaks to current events. Building upon established storylines from myth, religion, and history, her mixed media artworks create richly layered narratives that reflect on our dense and complicated times. Shandler believes people are natural storytellers that make sense of the world through by mining both personal experience and collective memories that have been passed down. Her work dips into this well. Training as a theatre designer helps her to envision installations and her background as a puppet builder informs how she approaches building objects. Identifying as a mother seeps into everything she does.

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Lacey McKinney in Domestic Brutes at Pelham Art Center

In Dialogue with Lacey McKinney


Lacey McKinney at McColl Center for Art + Innovation, 2019,.Courtesy Chris Edwards Photography

Lacey McKinney who resides in Upstate New York, is drawn to the alchemy of processes like painting and alternative photography. For the last several years, McKinney has worked within the framework of painting, using figuration to reference embodiment. Usually splitting her time between working in the studio and teaching, this year she feels lucky enough to embark on a one-year teaching sabbatical, which has given her extra time for experimentation with other media such as using cyanotype process to make photograms that incorporate into collage and mixed media works. The artist shares some insights on her body of work in Domestic Brutes, the all women group show at the Pelham Art Center which engages the visitor with diverse approaches of what feminism means in American society today.

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