'Still Working' after all these years

by Christine E. Shade

There is an expectation that people will slow down with age - stop producing, relax and let the world go by.

The 32 artists - some of them well into their 90s - represented in the exhibit that opens this week at the Fisher Gallery don't fit that stereotype. They're still busy painting, sketching and sculpting with a passion.

"Still Working: Underknown Artists of Age in America," opens at the Fisher Wednesday, Sept. 6, and runs through Nov. 16.

All the works in the show were produced by artists over the age of 60, who have been seasoned by life, who - contrary to a commonly held belief - have not succumbed to "an old-age style." To see these works is to understand that creativity knows no age limit.

Represented are paintings in oils and acrylics; sculptures in wood and bronze; found-objects such as twisted metals, polychromed aluminum, ink and charcoal renditions; and mixed media.

"Still Working" was organized by New York's Parsons School of Design and is underwritten by a grant from the real estate firm Julien J. Studley Inc. with support of the Richard A. Florsheim Art Fund.

The show opened in 1994 at Washington, D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery of Art, then traveled to Chicago, New York and Virginia Beach before arriving at the Fisher Gallery. Its final installation will be in Portland early next year.

Curated by Stuart Shedletsky, an artist and faculty member at Parsons School of Design, the original Corcoran show included 105 pieces. Because of space limitations, however, the Fisher Gallery will display only 94 of these works, said exhibition coordinator Jennifer Jaskowiak. Also due to space constraints, only about half of artist Sherman Drexler's 65-piece nude series - acrylic variations on wood, marble, and stone - are in the show.

Trevor Norris, Fisher Gallery exhibit designer, is mounting the show aesthetically, grouping each artist's work in the same area. Although the exhibit catalogue illustrates just one example from each artist, most have several pieces in the show. "I'll try to achieve a mix of media in each room," Norris said.

"Still Working" consists of contemporary works by 32 older professional American artists - the youngest 60, the oldest well over 90. All the artists were living when Shedletsky conceived the idea for this exhibit several years ago. Since then, some have died. Their work remains in the show.

Shedletsky, who also edited the exhibit catalogue, spent three years traveling throughout the United States, searching for mature artists, visiting museums and consulting state arts councils.

The works range from massive to minuscule. New York-based artist David Slivka's Mangrove is an enormous stained- wood and rope sculpture; in stark contrast are exquisite miniature inks on paper by Sal Sirugo, also from New York.

Subjects span the gamut from bacchanalian to bovine - Tower of Nymphs, by Venice, California-based artist Claire Falkenstein, is a colorful, fairy tale-like frolic, while Cows in a Gulley, by Maryland artist Jack Boul, is a pastoral study.

Six California artists are represented in the show: Hans Burkhardt, Falkenstein, Sidney Gordin, Julius Hatofsky, Jon Serl and Jack Zajak. Burkhardt died in 1994, at 90; Serl in 1993, at 99.

Much can be learned from the concept of and objects in "Still Working," according to Shedletsky. The exhibit, he contends, disproves the "national myth" that artists produce their most significant work in their youth.

"We proposed the contrary: that many more artists have evolved and matured slowly, often doing their best and most resonant work later in life," he said.

This is a concept that Fisher Gallery director Selma Holo addresses in her essay, "The Myth of Old-Age Style," which appears in the exhibit catalogue.

Holo reassessed the work of a handful of great artists - Rembrandt, Goya, Picasso, Monet - "who all lived long enough to work into their old age." She found that Monet, for example, invented his most abstract works during those years; Matisse "bounded into old age" with his "revolutionary cutouts;" Picasso embraced eroticism with a fervor.

These were merely "additional chapters," made all the richer by experience, intellect and the need to communicate through their art, she argues. So, too, with these artists.

"I think that no one really thinks that they're in the last stage of life," said Holo. "We're always in the next stage. What you get is not that predictable, it's sometimes very new, some of the greatest work." v

Gallery hours: Tuesday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m., and on Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free. Note: A director's walk-through of the exhibit, with Selma Holo speaking on "The Myth of the Old-Age Style," is scheduled Sept. 19 at noon; for reservations, call 740-4561.


Photo- IRENE FERTIK
Artist Stella Waitzkin, holding one "book" from her Details of a Lost Library, a 7 x 12-foot scupture resembling a colorful bookshelf. (See detail, left.) Waiztkin helped Fisher Gallery staff assemble the several hundred piece, cast polyester resin and mixed media work, which has been in progress for 40 years.


Photo- PARSONS SCHOOL OF DESIGN
Gerry with a Chicory Bouquet, 1993, oil on canvas, by Robert Wilbert, born 1929.


Photo- PARSONS SCHOOL OF DESIGN
The Juggler, 1993, acrylic on canvas, by Michele Russo, born 1909.

Photo- PARSONS SCHOOL OF DESIGN
Three Grand Figures, 1994, acrylic on marble, by Sherman Drexler, born 1925.

[Photo]



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