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Allison Cruz

‘Sinking Feeling’ by Margaret Minardi. Image from STAC

By Susan Risoli

‘One Nation Under Surveillance,’ fiberglass and epoxy, by Anthony Freda. Photo from STAC

When the everyday state of things starts to look different, what happens then? Who defines what’s “real” and what isn’t? Visitors to the Connecting Art to Life exhibit, which opens this Saturday at the Mills Pond House Gallery in St. James, may find themselves asking these questions.

And that’s just fine with Smithtown Township Arts Council Executive Director Allison Cruz, who said in a recent interview she hopes the exhibit, which features the work of artists Margaret Minardi and Anthony Freda, will start a conversation about the meeting of life and art.

This is the first time Cruz invited only two artists to be part of a Mills Pond show. She was moved by the determination of these two to keep on expressing themselves through their individual projects. “Anthony and Margaret teach and have families,” Cruz said. “Yet they both said to me, ‘It doesn’t matter how busy I am. I have to make art.’”

Cruz came up with the show’s title Connecting Art to Life, inspired by the ways Freda and Minardi take isolated aspects of daily living and translate that into something to which people can respond. It’s a process similar to the purpose of an art space, she said. “I think people are intimidated by the thought of going to an art gallery,” Cruz explained, “but really it’s a place to get information about what’s going on in your world right now.” Take it all in, “then do with it what you will.”

Margaret Minardi

Artist Margaret Minardi

 

Margaret Minardi’s world changed through her desire to become pregnant. She adopted two children after a personal journey that resulted in an infertility diagnosis. Her series of pieces in the Mills Pond House Gallery show were inspired by Minardi becoming a mother.

The works were rendered in colored pencil some years ago, after she discovered she could no longer use oil paint because she’d become allergic to it. She turned the potential setback into a mission to continue with colored pencil, “even though I didn’t know if I could erase, or blend color over color. Hour after hour I practiced.” These days, her media include collage and acrylic paint, she said.

Growing up in Trinidad left Minardi with lasting memories of “the specific color of water in the Caribbean.” Her pieces on exhibit at the Mills Pond House are done in aquamarine blue, and many of the figures “are in fishtanks, or some water situation.” The work juxtaposes realism with expressionism, presenting a story through many layers. The artist invites her viewers to interpret what’s going on beneath the surface of her pieces.

Minardi is about to retire after 30 years of teaching drawing and painting in the Northport-East Northport school district. “I’ve been so lucky,” she said. “I get to be around art from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep.” She doesn’t always know what a project is going to turn into and is sometimes surprised by the result, she said, “but it’s just important that I keep my pencil on the paper at all times. If you keep your hand moving, it becomes something important that comes from deep within.”

Anthony Freda

‘Solution’ by Anthony Freda

Anthony Freda’s 28 pieces in the Mills Pond House Gallery show are collage, his own paintings on found surfaces, limited edition prints and sculpture. As a Mount Sinai resident who grew up in Port Jefferson, he wanted to connect with a local art community and said this show seemed a good way to do it. Freda, an editorial illustrator and adjunct faculty member for the Fashion Institute of Technology, said throughout his career “I try to be honest and think about how I can best represent that with my art.”

Freda is drawn to themes of war and peace, freedom, civil liberties and encroachments upon them. “Things that impact society as a whole and impact me personally are things I want to comment on,” he said. Bombs, birds, pinup girls, reassuring American ephemera repurposed with contemporary social commentary, all can be found in his work. Humor infuses many of his pieces.

News about current events can be “provocative and emotional,” Freda said, and he’s trying to bring it all together and process it. “We’re all bombarded with memes, and disparate ideas, and news,” he said, so people will bring their own ideas when they see his work. Though some people avoid the news, saying it overwhelms them, Freda’s commentary continues. “Sometimes the truth is not popular,” he said. “Sometimes my work is not popular, but that’s almost irrelevant.” For him, it’s about defining the era he lives in, “in the way I want to define it, while trying to be honest and objective.”

The Smithtown Township Arts Council’s Mills Pond House Gallery, 660 Route 25A, St. James will present Connecting Art to Life from April 22 through May 13. There will be an opening reception April 22 from 2 to 4 p.m. The reception and exhibit are free and open to the public. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.stacarts.org.

'Old Town Bar' by Stephen Gardner

By Ellen Barcel

The Smithtown Township Arts Council’s Mill Pond House Gallery has a new exhibit opening on Jan. 21, The Fine Art of Illustration, which runs through Feb. 19. Twenty professional illustrators will have approximately four dozen illustrations on display.

Noted Allison Cruz, executive director of STAC, “The exhibit features original artwork of fine artists who specialize in illustration. They created art in particular subjects for clients who published their artwork in books, catalogs, advertising media, gaming media, postal stamps and the list goes on and on.”

‘Jackalope’ by Dan Burr

There are many reasons for using illustrations rather than reproducing photos. One is to illustrate a theme or topic for which there are no photos, such as historical events. Another is for a situation that doesn’t exist yet, a future event or for fantasy. Illustrations can quickly and easily display an idea, sometimes much more effectively than a more complex photo. Illustrations can also include graphics such as maps, charts or logos (a real plus in advertising).

The idea for the exhibit came from Cruz. “I try to organize artist gallery opportunities that are unique to this area and try to offer gallery visitors a well-rounded snapshot of contemporary art today. I have always admired illustration art,” she said. “There will be a diversity of styles, approaches and techniques … both traditional and digital.” Traditional media in which these artists work include oils, watercolors, charcoals, textiles, pen and ink and printmaking.

‘Mighty Mole and Super Soil’ by Chad Wallace

Cruz added, “Personally I feel illustrators sometimes get the short end of the stick in the art world. The art world does not like the commercialism of the illustration world. For me, a strong work of art is a strong work of art … no matter the purpose it was created for … it takes the same good skills and elements … lighting, form, composition, color etc. to create a fine piece of art for yourself if you are an artist as it does to create it for someone else … How dull our lives would be without these designs to help bring the written word to life!”

Artist and exhibit contributor Joel Iskowitz said many works of the great masters were commissioned, such as “the Sistine Chapel and many of Rembrandt’s works. This is a great title for the show, ‘The Fine Art of Illustration,’ because I see no difference between the two,” he said. “It’s a false boundary. Both entities are the same when performed at the highest level … All artwork that serves a purpose, that conveys the story, that has content beyond the confines of the craft of art itself is artwork that will speak to people and last throughout time.”

The artists in the exhibit have a wide variety of clients. Stephen Gardner has painted the covers for books, baseball cards and even movie posters. Iskowitz has done the artwork for over 2,000 stamps for some 60 separate nations, as well as illustrating children’s books. Anita Rundles, a 2013 graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, focuses on fashion and documentary drawing.

‘Old Town Bar’ by Stephen Gardner

Gardner, who was born in the UK, came to NYC because, “I primarily paint book covers and New York is where the work was, more work, better paid, and all of my favorite illustrators were Americans, Bernard Fuchs, Bob Peak and David Grove, to name but a few.” In NYC he became a baseball fan (the Yankees), “I would listen to the radio commentary and go to the day games that were so cheap back then. When I got the chance to do baseball paintings I kept at it, and certainly doing so many cards for Topps was a real joy. The movie poster was a real fun assignment,” as well.

Gardner added, “The paintings in the show are all part of a personal body of work I’m creating for a possible book. The project started as course work whilst I was studying for my MFA at FIT. An Illustrated Guide to New York’s Historic Bars, is the theme.”

Said Rundles, “I would say it’s difficult to break into the illustration world in general. It can be done for sure. … I’ve done some work here and there, for Dior and Versace doing events, but most of my drawings I’ve done on my own time for myself …”

‘Re-Animator with HP’ by Jeff A. Menges

Rundles has also done several large-scale murals as well as public art. “The two biggest projects I’ve done were both for the interiors of tech offices in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan … I recently did a small nonpermanent chalk mural on the 7th Avenue wall of my alma mater FIT, which is very public and still up at the moment, although eventually they will pressure wash the wall and it’ll be gone.” Rundles added, “One of the pieces included in the show is the artwork from one of the pages of a 56-page Jane Austen coloring book that I did for Abrams books last year. It was one of the best projects I’ve worked on so far in my illustration career and a great learning experience.”

Robert Felker did work for CNN. “I worked at CNN.com for eight years (2000-2008) and it was at times quite exciting. September 11, 2001 would most certainly be the most memorable! The highlight of my career there was the work I did as lead designer for our 2008 Presidential Election site. We won some Webby awards for our Primaries coverage and some of the data visualization stuff we were doing then was pretty new and exciting. It was chaotic and stressful at times, and even though in many ways it was an amazing opportunity.” Felker moved on to work for Scripps Networks Interactive, headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee (“Where I was born”) and where he continues to work. In addition to working in oils, his favorite medium, he is also a collage artist.

‘The Tin Man’ by Anthony Freda

Iskowitz noted, “artwork done for reproduction in publishing is very democratic at heart. Philatelic and numismatic artwork is especially so because epic stories are told on these tiny ambassadors that move freely amongst civilizations not bounded by time, borders or false categorical judgments.” One of the most meaningful stamps he designed was for the United Kingdom “honoring Kofi Annan, the first sub-Saharan, a Ghanan, to rise to the level of secretary general of the United Nations. It became the stamp for the month and year in the UK. The stamp designs that were the most fun were a series of stamps which portrayed a fantasized visit to New York City by Popeye the Sailor Man. I got to depict Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, etc.”

The juror for the exhibit was William Low, an award-winning painter, illustrator, author and educator, who has a reputation for using light, color and perspective and creating images those viewers find an immediate emotional connection with, who most recently designed the 2016 Forever Holiday Stamps for the U.S. Post Office.

Some of these original works in the show will be for sale. In addition, some of the artists will have prints of their work. This is a chance to see not only the work of local artists but the tremendous diversity there is in art for illustration.

The Mills Pond House is located at 660 Route 25A, St. James. The gallery is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. (closed holidays). A meet-the-artists reception, to which the public is invited, will be held on Saturday, Jan. 21 from 2 to 4 p.m. For further information, go to www.stacarts.org or call 631-862-6575.

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