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Blurring the boundary between painting and photography

Wendy Small paints photochemistry onto paper or dips the paper into it, allowing the developer and fixative to mix or repel one another. Variations and random interactions of black and white result.

For the exhibition “Chemistry: Explorations in Abstract Photography,” curator Karlyn Benson, director of Matteawan Gallery in Beacon, NY, has selected six photographers who push beyond traditional photographic processes in search of new definitions of what a photograph can be. In this exhibition, on display at Garrison Art Center  May 21 through June 19, process itself replaces the narrative and documentary content of traditional photography. The artists, Ellen Carey, Jill Enfield, Anne Arden McDonald, Amanda Means, Wendy Small, and S. Gayle Stevens, have spent years experimenting with photographic chemicals, processes, and technique.

Amanda Means has developed a multi-step process of folding the paper and allowing chemicals to flow over the surface while being exposed to light, a process that enables her to produce images that are both controlled and spontaneous.
Anne Arden McDonald uses photographic paper, spices, medicines, food, cleaners, and other materials to make her eight-foot “drawings.”
Ellen Carey began her cameraless photography in 1996 with her discovery of the Pull, in which she used Polaroid film to produce images that were both photographic and material-based. Carey’s new photograms are created by exposing crumpled paper to colored light.

S. Gayle Stevens creates wet plate collodion chemigrams using resist and non-resist techniques on a metal or glass surface. She employs developer that has been used many times to increase the silver content, creating surprising color as she draws into the chemigrams with plants and feathers.

Jill Enfield specializes in historical and alternative photographic processes. In this show, her works begin with ambrotypes (wet plate collodion images on glass) and end with painterly pieces that recall abstract expressionism.

When Carinda Swann, artist and Executive Director of Garrison Art Center, saw a few small-scale pieces by these artists at Benson’s Matteawan Gallery, she was impressed, despite their size, by their powerful presence. “Karlyn told me some of the artists made large-scale work as well, and I immediately invited her to curate a show.” The artists’ alternative, experimental methods result in mysterious, thought-provoking images that blur the lines between art disciplines. Viewers are left wondering. Is it a drawing? Is it a painting? Is it a photograph?

“Perhaps more artists are turning to these processes because photography itself has become so common in our lives,” curator Benson suggests. “Almost everyone walks around with a camera in his or her phone and digital photography has made it possible for anyone to take a photo at any time, cheaply, and with instant gratification. There is no longer the sense of anticipation waiting for photographs to be developed. The photographic processes used in the works in this exhibition are not predictable; there is always a sense of surprise when the final image is revealed. The main difference between this work and traditional or digital photography is that it is more like a drawing or monoprint. Each work is unique and cannot be duplicated.”

Artist Anne Arden McDonald with installer John Allen and curator Karlyn Benson installing the show at the Garrison Art Center. 

Chemistry: Explorations in Abstract Photography,” curated by Karlyn Benson. Artists include Ellen Carey, Jill Enfield, Anne Arden McDonald, Amanda Means, Wendy Small, S. Gayle Stevens; May 21 – June 19, 2016. Opening reception: Thursday, May 21, 5 – 8pm. The Riverside Galleries at Garrison Art Center, 23 Garrison’s Landing, Garrison, NY.

Also on view: “Christopher Manning’s Mixed Media Works in 2D & 3D,” curated by Thomas Huber.


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  1. Good to see the processes and work so nicely exhibited and reviewed. It is an exciting time in Chemigram land and for those of us working with similar processes. What the finished image �is� is often a question in the viewer�s and gallerists minds. Print�like and balancing control and chance are beautifully shown here.

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