SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Once again, anything goes in the South County Art Association’s latest exhibit, the Open Juried All Media exhibition, which runs through Dec. 19 at the Kingston gallery.
The exhibit, which features 70 pieces out of a total of 194 submissions, features works of all media, including paintings, sculptures, photography, abstract, metalworking, ceramics and more and was curated by Pawtucket-based painter and artist Nick Paciorek.
“He did an excellent job choosing the works for the exhibit, he had a lot to choose from (and) some hard choices to make but he put together a fabulous show for us,” SCAA Exhibitions Director Jason Fong said of Paciorek.
Normally the SCAA hosts two “all media” shows a year, one in the spring and another in the fall, however due to the COVID-19 shutdown that saw the gallery have to close its doors for a few months earlier this year, the previous planned all media exhibit had to be canceled. Their annual Holiday Sale, which normally runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas – and would’ve celebrated its 50th anniversary this year – befell the same fate. For that reason, the current exhibit has been extended into December to finish out the 2020 exhibitions calendar for the gallery.
“We are just going to carry this show all the way through the month of December, so basically it was put in there so that we would be able to maintain the tradition of displaying at least one all media show and it just came together pretty well,” Fong said. “The artists were actually very enthusiastic. We had a tremendous number of entries... It does make this show fairly competitive, so we got 70 pieces in the show and it worked out to roughly 33 percent (of entries), so it did get fairly competitive but it does make for an excellent show.”
According to Paciorek, Fong reached out to him earlier this year and was impressed with his resume of shows he’s juried both locally and around the country.
“I’m excited about (having been) asked to be a juror,” Paciorek said. “It’s always exciting to me because I get to see another variety of work from the South County area and if it was in Northern Rhode Island, it may have a little bit of a different flair also, but it’s always great to see such good work from so many great artists.”
As a juror, he said the hardest part of choosing pieces for a show is whittling down the selections while also making sure each piece gets enough time to be thoroughly examined.
“There’s always so much good work and there are things that may have not gotten in this show that are really good pieces,” Paciorek said. “They may be really good works, but there’s a certain percentage, there’s only so much space on the wall and I do take a lot of time in each and every piece because sometimes it can be a small piece and have a lot of strength that a large piece would have and vice versa, so you have to give all the works time and grasp them. Sometimes it’s just that we’re doing kind of an overview of what the show is and that’s how I make the selections. It’s not always easy. It’s not easy period, especially when you have that many works.”
For Fong, all media shows give artists opportunities to explore and enter some pieces they may not usually do, which leads to both more entries and experimentation.
“All media shows tend to bring in more entries and the reason is a lot of our other juried shows are a little more restrictive in terms of what media we’re looking for,” Fong said. “For instance, we do one show in the spring that’s all photography, we do one that’s all paint, print and drawing, we do one that’s all ceramics but for the all media show pretty much anything goes. Any theme, any media, so it pretty much opens it up to the most number of people who might have work to submit and in this case they did.”
In addition, Fong says it’s the diversity of these shows between the variety of mediums and themes with the ability to peak just the interest of just about everyone who visits the gallery that makes it truly shine.
“There’s a huge amount of variety,” Fong said. “It’s a very colorful show which kind of makes sense because our juror is a painter and color is definitely one of the things he’s most interested in, although there’s definitely some sort of quieter, more understated pieces in terms of the pallet, but there’s quite a few photographs that he chose that were black and white, so that adds some interesting contrast, but there’s definitely a variety so we’ve got landscapes, we’ve got florals like still lifes, we’ve got abstract work, there’s sculptures, there’s pottery, just a little bit of everything for whatever you’re interested in, there’s something for everybody.”
While this show, like all others the gallery has hosted since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, was held without an opening ceremony, awards for top prizes were still handed out. A photographic piece, “Waiting to Cross” by Marc A. Jaffe, took home top honors, while a mixed media piece titled “threading the Needle” by Ken Steinkamp finished second and Laura White Carpenter’s “Lunar Embrace,” a more abstract piece made out of welded and forged metal and gold leaf, finished third. Honorable mentions were given to “The Gravid One,” a photograph by Eric Hovermale, “A Little Bird Told Me,” a mixed media piece by Paula Imbergamo and “Blue Plate,” an oil painting by Marilyn Saabye.
While Paciorek’s background is in painting and he’s a self-described lover of bright, vibrant colors, he was particularly struck by Jaffe’s black-and-white photographic piece.
“I think as they say, when you’re a juror or when you’re doing things, you have to have an objective eye. You have to check who you are at the door and realize what’s the strength (of the piece is)… I think especially with what’s kind of going on in our society, it just said ‘hey this is who we all are,’” Paciorek said. “We’ve all been in Time Square, we all know the colors, the vibrancy and the thing that I was struck by is the person that photographed the piece made an effort to (show) there’s two people looking at all these people on the other side and I think that we all need to look at everybody, that’s what our culture is. It didn’t say Black, White, Hispanic, it said ‘this is who we are’ and I know it was in Time Square and it’s a melting pot of the world, but that’s what our country is about and it just said it in a very, very subtle way. I think if the photograph was taken with 50 people on that same side and I see 50 peoples’ back of the heads looking at the other side, I don’t think it would be as strong as less people looking and saying ‘this is who we are.’”
Jaffe said the top honors came as a surprise, but a welcome one, especially as a photographer.
“I always love it when a photographer, even if it’s not me, wins first prize because so often these days or just in general when you’re in a mixed media show, it’s the paintings and one of a kind things that often will end up with the prizes, so when a photograph wins, it’s a good feeling,” Jaffe said. “There were a lot of good pieces there, so I’m honored to have been selected.”
As for the piece itself, which was taken in Time Square in New York City, Jaffe said it captured a lot of what he loves about the big city, a place he’s dearly missed over the course of COVID.
“I consider myself a street photographer for the most part so I get energized when I go to New York and so in this particular situation I was waiting to cross the street and I just felt the energy of the crowd as everyone was waiting to cross and I held up my camera and just took a picture,” Jaffe said. “I was pleased with the way it turned out. I like the composition, I like the way everybody’s looking in different directions, in their own thoughts (with) whatever they’re thinking, but everyone’s looking somewhere else. I like the two people in the foreground that give some depth to it. The gentleman approaching from across the street who happens to be in the middle of the street, how he got there I don’t know, and it’s just a fun picture to me that shows the energy of New York, something that I miss because we haven’t been able to do that for almost a year now.”
As for the two people in the foreground, something which really stuck with Paciorek and led to him choosing the piece as his top winner, Jaffe said it came less from planning and more from instinct.
“I knew that they were there and I wanted to have people in the foreground, but it turned out exactly the way I wanted it to, so sometimes it’s a combination of skill, intuition and luck,” Jaffe said.
Overall, Paciorek was impressed by the offering from the exhibition.
“It’s very strong work and it’s diverse,” Paciorek said. “Obviously I’m geared a little bit more towards painting, but the piece I chose for the best piece was a photograph and it just was the strength and at the time, so it is difficult but I did enough of this and I’m able to, I feel, make strong judgments.”
For Fong, being able to finish off a year filled with ups and downs with such a strong exhibit feels good.
“There was a lot of uncertainty during the lockdown when we were closed on how this year was going to go,” Fong said. “Since we’ve reopened, every show we’ve put up, the response from the artists and patrons has been just tremendous, exceeding all of my expectations. It seems that the artists are definitely wanting to show their work as much as ever. There’s been maybe a slight downturn in the number of entries we’ve got, but nothing too significant, and in terms of people visiting the gallery, that’s as strong as it ever was.”
Additionally, Fong said that despite limits on the amounts of people and live events they can do that it has overall been a good year business wise for the SCAA.
“It’s not like we’ve ever had huge crowds in here, there’s always plenty of room, but the traffic has been steady and people have been wanting to buy art,” Fong said. “At the last show, our members’ show, we sold 10 pieces, which is a lot. We’ve already sold four pieces from this show and it hasn’t even been a week yet, and at our gift shop the sales (have been) very strong also for the last several months, so (with) the pandemic and everything, it’s hard to know how things will play out, but in terms of participation in our shows it seems to have not had too much of an effect. I feel like things are actually headed to a pretty good place.”
The Open Juried All Media exhibit runs at the SCAA’s gallery at the Helme House, located at 2587 Kingstown Road in Kingston, during gallery hours Wednesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. through Dec. 19. For more information on the SCAA, visit their website, southcountyart.org.