A new exhibit curated by a Columbia alumnus and featuring alumni’s work reveals new interpretations of images of the Southwest and desert landscapes.
“Off White Desert” opened Tuesday at the Louis B. James Gallery on the Lower East Side, which provides an intimate, yet sparse, space. White walls and gray wood-paneled floors accentuate the modern desert landscapes of the installments.
Gallery co-founder David Fierman, CC ’05, wanted to display his work alongside that of other artists, including Nora Griffin, SoA ’11, Matthew Kirk, and Ann Greene Kelly.
“I had worked with Matthew before,” Fierman said. “Nora, I had known for many years and had wanted to do a show with. So I just ended up wanting to match some things that I thought worked well together, and sculpture I think also really plays off really nicely within the deserted mix of this nature—desert expanse and then sort of gritty urban stuff.”
“Off White Desert” avoids traditional images of the desert, instead serving as an exploration of desert landscapes in a modern sense with recognizable symbols from Southwestern iconography.
“It definitely has a different feel, but it works out well because there is a lot of that influence in my paintings,” Kirk said.
Kelly, whose pieces within the exhibit consist of various abstract sculptures incorporating metals, wood, and in one instance the top of a shoe, eschews the Southwestern focus of other works.
“My pieces aren’t really inspired by the Southwest at all,” Kelly said. “Matthew’s work is inspired by the Southwest and different landscapes, and I feel like my pieces are definitely more kind of like urban landscapes. And we were kind of interested in that play on stuff.”
These winks at Southwestern influence can be seen most clearly in the paintings of Kirk and Griffin, who both recently spent time in the region, where they found artistic intrigue. During her time at a residency in Truth or Consequences, N.M., in May, Griffin found opportunities for artistic expanse.
“It’s an amazing small desert town and I stayed for a month,” Griffin said. “And I started using new colors. Copper is something I started using, and I bought that bone that’s on top of that painting in a little junk shop there.”
Griffin’s experimentation with the incorporation of the frame is present in “Off White Desert,” where shape and color extend from the canvases onto their wooden frames. In the piece “Blvd Magenta (French Painting),” the work extends even beyond the frame, with the placement of painted coyote bone atop the canvas.
Griffin and Fiernan noted that their time at Columbia was a valuable jumping-off point for their respective careers in the art world.
“It’s a great way to use my art history degree,” Fierman said. “And you know it was nice being in New York when I was in college so I could go to all the galleries and become really familiar with it and then start working in the galleries when I got out of college, and then sort of move on from there.”
Griffin, a New York native, credited Columbia as a place where she could try new techniques.
“I guess there I started making larger paintings and started working more with framing. There was a woodshop there that was really great to experiment with,” she said. “Since then I have just been building on that body of work.”
“Off White Desert” runs through March 9 at the Louis B. James Gallery.