On December 12th Nancy Hoffman Gallery opens an exhibition inspired by the circle. Several galley artists use the circle as a recurring motif in their work; some of the painters depict this most universal of shapes in abstract form, referencing aspects of nature; others create circles observing their presence in nature, such as in a flower; and finally the circle of the sun appears as a stone disc with radiating rays on a round base that is an ancient Chinese millstone hundreds of years old. The exhibition opens on December 12 and continues through January 20, including works by Ilan Averbuch, Timothy Cummings, Rupert Deese, Gregory Halili, Hung Liu, Nicole Phungrasamee Fein, and Joseph Raffael.
The word circle derives from Greek, closely related to the words circuit and circus. The circle has been known since before the beginning of recorded history. Natural circles would have been observed, such as the Moon, Sun, and a short plant stalk blowing in the wind on sand, which forms a circle shape in the sand. The circle is the basis for the wheel, which, with related inventions such as gears, makes much of modern machinery possible. In mathematics, the study of the circle has helped inspire the development of geometry, astronomy and calculus. Early science, particularly geometry and astrology and astronomy, was connected to the divine for most medieval scholars, and many believed that there was something intrinsically "divine" or "perfect" that could be found in circles. In Plato's Seventh Letter there is a detailed definition and explanation of the circle.
The circle appears throughout Averbuch’s oeuvre in sculpture and drawing, beginning in the early 90’s. Defying gravity and working with stone, Averbuch builds monumental circle sculptures. The Sun is among the artist’s small-scale works, awaiting its mate, The Moon. On a circular ancient Chinese millstone, The Sun radiates energy. Averbuch writes about the circle:
“The work for the Circle show is titled The Sun. There is the concept of framing in the circles I make, which makes them not a portrait nor a landscape and thus all the possibilities. In this particular work I took away the core of the sun that is so hard to look at and sculpted the rays only. “
Portraits and self-portraits have been parallel threads in Timothy Cummings’s work. His newest portraits, entitled “The Ring Cycle,” inspired by Wagner’s music, are evocative and intimate in scale (from 3 to 6 inches) meticulously created, by this self-taught artist who is inspired by Renaissance paintings as well as by primitive art. Cummings writes about the “Ring Cycle:” “I was being a little cheeky calling the miniatures “the Ring Cycle.” The title is for their circular shape. I have been studying Wagner’s ring cycle lately and I can see an indirect correlation--a sense of nature in the miniatures, and a mystical, pagan sense of pageantry that seems to run through Wagner’s ring cycle --that must have seeped in subconsciously. I enjoy painting miniatures for the same reason I love looking at old miniatures in museums… I love the delicate details and intimacy that can be packed into a small space. My miniatures are romantic imaginings of made up loved ones, offerings of characters I’ve imagined from some other space and time.”
The circle has been an ongoing motif for Deese since his Wave series of the late 90’s; tondo-shaped paintings in plywood, painted in oil. The disks, with wave-like forms in varying pitch and intensity, were all hand-built by the artist. His new circles are based on Roger Penrose’s aperiodic rhombic tiling. Deese divides each Penrose rhombus in half – turning each rhombus into a pair of matching triangles. This modification gives rise to an array of similar but not identical circles in the tiling field. Deese writes: “So much that is beautiful in the world is circular or spherical in its form. So much that comes into being, whether by growing, bursting, splashing, exploding, blooming, radiating or expanding, manifests itself as a circle, or, if unbridled to a plane, as a column or sphere, like a flower stem and a tree trunk, or an atom and a star. The natural world is abundant with circles. The circular lens of the human eye apprehends the world in circular elements. A circle is the biological unit of seeing.”
Gregory Halili’s paintings in oil on mother-or pearl are “eyes.” Mostly they depict his wife’s eyes in the tradition of the “eyes of the beloved.” He traces the circadian rhythm of sleep to waking, the eye is closed, slowly opens in a progression of circles and ellipses, opens wide, and then slowly closes at the end of each cycle. In his newest piece, Sorrow II (Lady of Pearls) the artist paints 16 crying eyes, the tears created by the forming of pearls that never grow to maturity and thus appear as drops rather than rounded pearls for harvesting. The 16 discs, cut from mother-of-pearl shells, are installed as a circle, there is no beginning and no end, the cycle continues in circular format. Halili writes: “My current interest and subjects are focused mainly on natural materials found and sourced where I am currently based, such as found, beached corals and shells. These new works such as the crying eyes with pearls and skull shells, connect us with the current state of our seas and environment. By working on what was once living, abandoned, discarded and now recreated into another form of “life”, I feel it is a form of circle or cycle. I strongly believe in our deep connection with nature, which is getting fragile with climate change and its effects.”
The circle is signature also for Nicole Phungrasamee Fein, who has distilled her “imagery” following her meditative voice. Each work is an object of contemplation, coming to life as the artist slowly makes one mark or dot after another until the circle emerges as a shimmering mirage-like earthly planet that is born from a drop of water. Like droplets that disperse on a glass slide under a microscope and come vibrantly to life, seeming to pulsate before the viewer’s eyes; Fein’s circles have a living breathing presence. Her new work eschews color in favor of gossamer blacks, greys, whites and silver, which focus the viewer on the subtle patterns. Fein writes of her work: “My practice is simple – I slowly make one small mark at a time. The work strives to harmonize focus and repose, creating an experience that is simultaneously tense and tranquil. More recently, the natural flow of water has emerged as a guiding principle in the formation of each image, providing a sense of freedom that offsets the tremendous discipline required to create the work. I am currently exploring the possibilities of scale and balancing my controlled gesture with the energy of the water itself. “
Hung Liu’s paintings are steeped in Chinese culture, contemporary and ancient. She was born in China, worked in the fields for four years during the Cultural Revolution, and came to this country in the mid-80’s. While she has a foot in both cultures--China and the United States--her art is born of a traditional Chinese art education, which one sees in the gold and silver backgrounds surrounding her signature flower, the dandelion. This is the only flower the artist paints, symbolic of migration, immigration, emigration. The dandelion spreads its seeds as the wind blows, the seeds scatter, like people of the world who migrate from country to country. In many ways the dandelion is symbolic of Liu’s transition from Chinese culture to America. Like the Chinese symbol of yin and yang, the dandelion is a circle, a motif that occurs and recurs in the artist’s oeuvre. In Chinese writing a sentence ends with a circle, not a period, the most universal of all geometric shapes.
For Joseph Raffael circles exist in the flowers in his garden. Whether a zinnia or a rose, he sees circles throughout nature. Moving from images of water and koi to his garden’s rich blooms, the artist paints what he sees in his backyard. The artist recently wrote about the circle: “A circle is a simple closed curve that divides the plane into two regions: an interior and an exterior. The circle is always moving, round and round, yet at the same time totally still. The circle spiraling inward is the world. The circle spiraling outward becomes the universe. Think: the “Circle of Life” – its never ending-ness, its forever ongoing-ness. The Sun & the Moon.”