STAC’s latest exhibit invokes a Brooklyn state of mind
By Susan Risoli
Ladies and gentlemen and kids who like oddities — step right up for Greetings from Coney Island, an art exhibit running through June 25 at the Smithtown Township Arts Council’s (STAC) Mills Pond Gallery in St. James. Artists Kelynn Z. Alder, Carol Fabricatore, Candy Heiland and Marie Roberts show us all sides of Coney Island — easy days in the sun, mysterious nights under carnival lights, complex sideshow freaks, simple pleasures of food and fresh air. Sometimes these themes merge in a unique boardwalk alchemy, and the artists capture that too.
Kelynn Z. Alder
Kelynn Z. Alder’s “Neptune and Bambi’s Wedding Procession, Mermaid Parade” (oil painting on canvas) presents a couple in mermaid regalia, surrounded by a crowd of jubilant friends. The colors bring to mind the gravel in the bottom of a fish tank — lime-green, pinks, coral, oranges. The artist echoes them throughout the active scene — over here in a multicolored ice cream bar, over there in a celebrant’s lipstick. Gazing at this large painting is like a wild dream you know you should wake up from, but it’s too fascinating to leave just yet. And despite the artifice of the subjects’ costumes, their joy is genuine. In this parade of illusion, Alder paints happiness as real as the relief of misfits who finally found a welcoming tribe.
Carol Fabricatore renders two views of the same boardwalk sideshow. Her thorough treatment creates more questions than answers about what’s really going on. Her charcoal and acrylic “Snake Charmer” seems to be a fairly straightforward look at a carnival barker, swaying like a cobra while he drums up an audience for the charmer standing nearby with a snake around her waist. That boy in the corner, though … we wonder who he is, and where his parents are.
We meet up with this crew again, elsewhere in the exhibit, in Fabricatore’s “Boardwalk Barkers” (also charcoal and acrylic). This time we see the woman’s apparent ecstasy, as she nuzzles the snake. Her foot is raised coquettishly. Her behavior might all be part of her snake charmer performance, but how can we be sure? The crowd of bystanders gathered in front of her are just as uncertain as we are.
Here Fabricatore gives us an engrossing character study of their faces and body language. One lady has her hand on her chin, looking like the jury is still out on what in the heck is happening here. Boys in the crowd look unsettled — and transfixed. Even the guy pushing a baby in a stroller has stopped to take a look (and we wonder what sort of dreams that baby will have tonight). The drawing is mostly black and white, and the sparseness of its lines allows us to really focus on and study the individual reactions of each person in the crowd.
Candy Heiland is inspired by the color, light and dynamics of Coney Island at night. The children have all gone home now (or probably should have). Her oil pastels on paper have black backgrounds and are distinctive in their use of purple and mauve and crimson, rather than the circus colors we might associate with the carnival atmosphere. Her images are a world of oversized clown heads, or hallucinogenic eyes like the ones in “Spookarama Doors.” The Nathan’s Famous restaurant sign is bathed in moonlight and spotlight under Heiland’s treatment.
There is plenty of movement in Heiland’s work. We know the roulette wheels she represents are in reality hanging on a wall in the gallery, but still we feel the wheels spinning. The same is true of her carousel horses. This is not a happy carousel full of laughing families. These carousel horses are alive with disturbing and disturbed expressions on their painted faces, and we feel their urgent straining.
Brooklyn native Marie Roberts has a personal history with Coney Island: Her uncle Lester worked there, for the Dreamland Circus Sideshow, in the 1920s. Sideshow freaks dropped by the family home. Her work in the exhibit invites us to join her in hanging out with the fire eaters, the sword-swallowers, a contortionist or two. Her use of strokes of vivid color is abstract in some of her images, the afternoon light giving a different twist to yellow, red and blue.
She is more direct and realist in other paintings — so real that we can almost taste the zeppole and smell the funnel cake, and hear the vendor say, “What’ll you have?” Roberts juxtaposes children in adult settings, some working in carnival booths, some eating ice cream and taking it all in, some not human at all but frolicking baby mermaids.
Her black outlines are bold and sure, but the mystery that swirls in like fog from the Atlantic Ocean is very much present in her work. There’s a lot going on here that requires a second and third look. As do the other artists in the show, Roberts reminds us that Coney Island is always a treat for the senses even as it pulls back the curtain just enough to leave us wanting more.
The Mills Pond House Gallery, 660 Route 25A, St. James will present Greetings from Coney Island through June 25. There will be an opening reception at the Gallery June 10, 4 to 6 p.m., with an opportunity to meet the artists and see Coney Island performance artist Wendy Blades, who will share her sword-swallowing talents. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.stacarts.org.