Saul Chernick “A Late Smoke” 2007, ink on paper/collage
Five years at the Phatory and still having phun
Expanding its mission, an East Village plum ripens
Through August 5
Animation night, July 18
The Phatory LLC
618 E. Ninth Street
By Jeffrey Cyphers Wright
On 9/11 Sally Lelong lost her studio space near the World Trade Center. She found a new place on East 9th Street and eventually turned it into The Phatory. This summer, she celebrates her fifth anniversary of life as both an artist and a dealer.
“I couldn’t help myself,” she admits on first seeing the boarded up storefront.” I decided to open a gallery because it was at street level.” A veteran of the East Village, Lelong can rattle off the names of the ghosts both the ones still living and those long gone: “Civilian Warfare… 8BC… Nuyorican Café… A Gathering of the Tribes.”
“I’m a denizen since ’74. I happened to hear Ginsberg recite “Howl” in 1976 at the Ear Inn. I was wandering in the neighborhood and it was there. That’s my version of New York. I was born in Newark so I’ve always been a train ride away. You just get in the habit of cruising… you spectate. There’s always something happening. I’ve had a life-long love affair with New York.”
Lelong is one of that rare breed who has kept her day job (financial aid director for Alvin Ailey and others) and her night and weekend job (the gallery) and her artistic life.
“I have to live on both sides of the fence. I’m really not interested in being a salesman. I think of myself as being a publisher in a graphic format instead of a verbal one. I like art that can communicate ideas and I don’t care about the medium. I like to present work that is driven by an underlying idea or concept and how ideas express themselves visually.”
Now, Lelong is giving herself some creative space. “I went to SVA and graduated in 1978. The reason why I invited Jill Connor to curate the current show was to give myself some time to do my own work.”
No stranger to the gallery, Jill Connor is known to keep abreast of currents and eddies in the current art scene. Serious and somewhat shy, Connor curates art shows, pens catalogue essays and writes criticism for Art US and Contemporary Magazine among others. The current show’s title, “Loaded” initially seemed an odd choice until she explained. “I got the title from the fact that charicatura in Italian means loaded portrait or exaggerated portrait.”
The psychologically charged black and white drawings of Saul Chernick (who is represented by Max Protech Gallery) recall comic book graphics. The figures have an allegorical, Blake-ian demeanor that builds up as the artist progresses. Though they seem simple, Connor says, “Each drawing takes two to three months. The pictures evolve randomly they’re not pre-drawn. Lines lead into lines and when patterns start to form he begins to see what he wants the picture to look like. It’s tricky working with black on a white background. There’s no room for a mistake.”
Taking the comic book genre and mixing in graffiti, Ernesto Concepcion sketches outlines of warring factions over dramatic vistas. “He started unloading these sci-fi, dreamlike conflicts that he sees going on. He’s from the Philippines where they’ve had to fight so much. He thinks of things in terms of tension and conflict and war. He thinks life wouldn’t be perfect without war,” Connor relates.
“I was looking for cross-over in the drawing technique. I was trying to highlight the character of drawing caricatures. Some pieces [in the animations] like the Steve Brodner piece break it down. He talks about why he took an egg and what he saw in the egg politically. He saw McCain and Bush as two eggs “yoked” together by the war. So he drew portraits on the eggs and then mashed them together. He used hummus for Hammas and peas for peace and mayo for the white majority and then he made another portrait of Bush with egg salad and green peppers. The face sings the ‘Candyman’ song.”
Brodner works with Richard Connor’s “Asterisk” project and the sardonic animations are posted on the New Yorker website.
The next show of animation will be on July 18 from 7 to 9. It will include Brent Green who shows at Bellwether and Elise Angler who showed with Cynthia Broan Gallery. John Goras does a PowerPoint anti-war piece. “It’s a scathing critique,” says the curator. “Soldiers as skeletons are fighting other soldiers. They’re already dead and they’re still fighting. Goras is criticizing the US tendency to rush to war and to use war as a way to sort out international problems.”
Coincidentally, the gallery’s stable also has an international flavor, including two Iraqi artists and the Turkish painter, Susan Batu. Explaining her vision, Sally Lelong confides, “I don’t want to say it, but I like anthropological moments even though it sounds like artistic gobbledygook. I gravitate toward ideas that provide insights, especially when it articulates ideas that I grasp to understand.”