Welcome to the Neighborhood: Roese, Ratusnik, Ries, and Pribojan examine their surroundings
For 28 years, the Harris Stanton Gallery has been a fixture of the Akron art scene, and the broader Northeast Ohio creative community. Last year, the boutique opened a Cleveland location. To mark its first anniversary in its second home, Harris Stanton Gallery is welcoming and re-introducing itself to the neighborhood. In late August, four painters will display visual love letters to their own favorite communities-within-a-community. Appropriately, their group exhibition is titled Neighborhoods.
Gallery founder and owner Meg Harris Stanton said she was inspired to host the show after encountering Cleveland’s internal diversity. “I think Cleveland is fascinating, because it has so many neighborhoods,” she said. Unlike Akron, it has distinct neighborhoods in which someone can keep themselves fed and entertained without ever leaving.
However, the participating artists do roam outside their hometowns, and sometimes outside their comfort zones.
Architectural painter Thomas R. Roese often sketches or paints the Flats and the manufacturing infrastructure they left behind. For Harris Stanton’s show, he’s focused his attention a few miles south into Tremont with a series of paintings of local houses.
Roese says he was drawn to the college town because of how much it reminded him of the industrial neighborhoods in Brooklyn, OH where he grew up. The two-story homes he depicts are, like the Tremonsters who live in them, modest but hopeful.
Aesthetically, they are also studies in contrasts—literal contrasts between colors and shading, not contradictory principles. Though only a few colors dominate each image, each stands out with an amplified brightness. The whites of a handicapped parking sign, and the sky blue siding on a bungalow practically glow against a gray sky and tan façade of the house next door.
How Roese orients viewers towards the houses is by itself enough to draw attention. The focal point of the painting with the blue and tan house is in the space between the few homes, a block or two off in the distance where autumnal or early springtime stand naked. Only a few yards of the houses’ width are actually visible. In another painting, a white house is shown in an aerial perspective, partially obscured by service poles and power lines.
Glenn Ratusnik brings to Neighborhoods a series of park landscapes, and an interesting connection— when he was a high school student growing up in Parma, Roese was his art teacher. Roese recalls that even when Ratusnik was a student who had to follow instructions, he was able to make his own vision visible in his work.
“He was doing what was on the curriculum, and doing it well. He brought his own thought to the process very nicely,” Roese said.
Ratusnik likewise remembers his early tutelage fondly, and says that Roese’s participation was one of the reasons he accepted the invitation to join Neighborhoods.
“It was a great opportunity to show next to him, since he’s been a mentor to me on and off,” Ratusnik said. “[Roese] was a great instructor. He gave me a good sense of discipline and technical skills.”
Ratusnik puts those skills to work depicting Cleveland in a manner almost opposite that of Roese’s. Freud would make much of the rebellion of the student-son against the teacher-father. But we’re not Freud. Against Roese’s depictions of private, developed homes in the shadow of the city’s industries, Ratusnik seeks out public green space partially reclaimed by nature.
Ratusnik is working on a series of landscapes in Wendy Park, an idyll just Northeast of Edgewater. The park is built on a peninsula north of the old Cuyahoga River channel, on land passed back and forth over the years—once a shanty town, once privately owned and coveted by the Port Authority, now part of the Metroparks system. The paths Ratusnik paints are clear, the grass clipped. Yet some of the park has been allowed to grow wild.
Approaching the pieces naively, viewers could read a Gothic atmosphere into Ratusnik’s scenes. Standing in front of them, one can almost feel the wet chill of dawn in the thick fog which blankets the grass and trees. Even the horizon fades into the mists.
However, to read foreboding into Ratusnik’s landscapes defies the artist’s intentions. The stillness of the works is meant to be a promise of quietness and peace to the park’s visitors.
“I find it to be an oasis in the middle of the city,” Ratusnik said. A birdwatcher, the artist found Wendy Park was a hub during migration season, with a surprising number of avian species touching down on the Whiskey Island locale.
However, even here there are signs of the manufacturing economy. In one of Ratusnik’s pieces, the frame of a river-spanning drawbridge looms in the background, rendered in a shade of gray slightly darker than the surrounding mist. The later pieces in Ratusnik’s series will include more of Cleveland’s skyline.
The skyline also serves as a backdrop in Christine Ries’ body of work, currently in progress. It is planned as a series of portraits of colorful Cleveland residents, with the city’s most iconic buildings looming behind them. Reis’ style is descended from the Impressionists, using a loose, easy brushstroke and vivid colors. Her portraits are full of energy and movement.
Diane Pribojan shifts away from downtown and to the suburbs. Like Roese, her subject is domestic architecture. However, her colors are even more vivid, sometimes bordering on the fluorescent. And whereas Roese puts us in unexpected spatial relations to his houses, Pribojan displays them in full view, as if seen across the road.
The street-level perspective and Middle Americana familiarity of Pribojan’s houses make them welcoming. Without explicit labeling, their little steeped roofs and big lawns could be in any ’burb in the U.S. Yet at the same time, the homes appear unreal. They have been stripped of all but the most minimal details, until they are almost nothing but geometry in bursting hues. Even shading is achieved by laying down solid polygons of black, placed opposite to obstructions to the light source. A balance is struck between coziness and minimalism.
One house is almost a yellow triangle and two rectangles, with three stripes of black and grey. In another piece, a pink house sits under a pink sky. The two might bleed together into a single bubblegum-colored plane, if they were not separated by the slate-colored triangles and rhombuses that make up the house’s roof.
Though their style differ, all the participating artists allow their affection for their communities to saturate their work. In a city that’s chronically hard on itself, here’s a curator from Akron showing us some of what’s lovable in Cleveland.
Harris Stanton Gallery
1370 West 9th St.
August 28 – September 26, 2015