For some time now, we at Art*Throb have enjoyed the careers of all three artists featured in a discussion Feb. 2 at Flatrock’s Gallery in Gloucester’s quietly funky hamlet of Lanesville.
First, one of Paul Cary Goldberg’s gritty black and white images from Gloucester’s Cafe Sicilia graced the front cover of our March issue last year. Perhaps our readers remember the portrait that resembled Robert De Niro or Sean Pean, when in fact it was a contemporary cafe regular. In May, we featured an interview with Jon Sarkin in his messy, but productive studio across the street from the cafe. In November, we let our readers know that Ken Riaf was turning his storefront law office, an old Western Union Telegraph office up the street, into The Law and Water Gallery, featuring work from all three of them in an exhibit exploring the law and the working waterfront.
The recent gallery talk in Lanesville brought more than 50 people on a Saturday afternoon to the light and airy space to hear what drives the three artists to create. Their show Driven is on view through Feb. 24.
A word about the new gallery. Owners Cynthia Roth and Anne Marie Crotty say their mission is to carry forth the long tradition of Lanesville — located at the northernmost tip of Gloucester — as home to “a cadre of nationally known painters, illustrators and sculptors who were also an integral part of the community” since the late 19th century.
The gallery aims to showcase “contemporary art, younger artists on the cusp of discovery and the finest of Cape Ann’s old masters.” Also home to a florist, two jewelers, three photographers and two antiquarian book dealers, Flatrocks is a hub of activity surrounded by nature.
A word about the three featured artists. Goldberg produces still lifes, often compared to the work of Dutch master painters. I followed him around the Gloucester waterfront at night more than ten years ago, while he used available harsh floodlighting to capture the rusted underbellies of boats. For this show, Goldberg, a therapist, is exhibiting a meditative, intimate body of work called Etudes. The series could not be more opposite from his ongoing Cafe Sicilia series, a vibrant study of the Italian community in Gloucester right in their social gathering place.
In Etudes, using old bottles and goose eggs found on a farm he has also been photographing, Goldberg has created a blue, watery world that makes one think of life’s beginnings, of fertility and tenuous quiet. As a child, he wrote poetry and found the egg a recurring theme. In his artist statement, he said perhaps he makes art “in an effort to understand, contend with, push back at and counterweight all the sorrow and fury of life.” Or, he says, “Maybe it’s just for the love of it, or for the love others give to me on account of it.”
Those who know Sarkin, know his story. An early in life stroke rearranged the way he sees the world and compelled him to make art. Sarkin will be speaking at Oxford University in March about the relationship between brain damage and creativity. Today, the internationally renowned artist works in mixed media at a frenetic pace. This is partly, he says, because the death of his brother in a plane crash forced him to face mortality and work even harder. “I only have so much time on the planet. I’ve got to make my move here,” the angular and intense Sarkin said to the rapt crowd. Sarkin’s work tends to examine the same image over and over. He spoke last week of Caravaggio’s David, a recurring theme. He explained being struck by the look on David’s face as he held the head of Goliath. “He was just taking care of business,” he said, much like each of these men in the show.
Many at the talk wanted Ken Riaf to discuss the way film influences his small scale assemblages, which literally contain the legal, the political, the environmental and the romantic. In addition to being an attorney who has focused on anti-poverty work and fisheries policy, Riaf has been a commercial fisherman and longshoreman, is an adjunct professor at Endicott College and produced with Gloucester filmmaker Henry Ferrini, Polis Is This about poet Charles Olson.
Riaf’s boxes feature little found objects and small plastic people in cinematic scenes that can be construed differently when examined from multiple angles. Familiar Gloucester scenes that loom large in the mind of locals are captured here in the miniscule. Backlit scenes feature a man and woman standing on beach stones in a parting pose in On the Rocks while Professional Courtesy gives us three suits in an underwater scene with massive (it’s all relative) sharks swimming nearby.
Riaf insists there are not many artists — perhaps Joseph Cornell, a constant comparison — who must spend their lives thinking INSIDE the box. Just as the scale of his work is small, to the point are the words that accompany them: Gimme, gonna and ‘Bro Can You Spare a Dime. This patois comes “from all over,” Riaf says, from “The Bahamas, the cit-hey… the watery part of the world, and from the corner — as my pal sez ‘I didn’t hang out at the corner, I’m from the corner.’”
As the evening sky turned an azure blue, matching the hue of Goldberg’s photographs, the audience, comprising many of Gloucester’s most recognizable characters, artists and musicians, posed thoughtful questions to each of the three. They inquired about the compulsion to create, the inner critic, outer critics, inspiration, vulnerability and process.
Finally, a woman asked what it’s like to create in a community that really appreciates art. And most in the room knew the answer.
Dinah Cardin is founder of North Shore Art*Throb.