Four Artists Showcased in Ellarslie Exhibit

The Sunday Times, Trenton, New Jersey
May 13, 1984
by Susan Doan-Johnson

There is something about those houses in David Doonan's photographs.

They're really quite odd, with the one side fresh and modern, the other side considerably older and a bit run down. They're also quite appealing.

Doonan calls them schizophrenic.

"I can still remember quite vividly the day that I first became aware of schizophrenic houses," he writes. "It was in the spring of 1977, a Saturday with warm temps and blinding sunlight . . ."

"Louie and I left his house in Mercerville and headed for South Trenton. We parked the car, and there it was. One pair in the center of a string of wooden row houses. The left, shining behind new aluminium siding and the right, wooden with peeling paint.

It looked as if the owners hadn't spoken to each other for years. We both photographed it, laughed and walked on, closing our eyes to a neighborhood filled with such houses."

And so began Doonan's interest in the "schizophrenic" houses he found in the Trenton area. A good selection of his photos is on display in the first of four exhibits in the "Sixteen Artists '84" spring-summer series at Ellarslie, The Trenton City Museum.

In each of the four exhibits, four artist from the Trenton Artists Workshop Association will be featured. The current exhibition, which runs through May 29, includes photographs of David Doonan, etchings, watercolors, and handmade paper by Annelies van Dommelen of Lambertville; wooden sculpture constructions by Barry Snyder of New Hope, and oil paintings by Barbara Klein of Lawrenceville.

It was six years before Doonan noticed another "schizophrenic" house. "This time I fortunately kept my blinkers off," he writes. "One could discuss ad infinitum the motives behind such facelifting, whether the respective owners talk to each other, and do they care what the other half looks like?"

"Do they do certain alterations to please themselves or annoy the neighborhood? Are they improving the value of the building, and/or reflecting the owner's ideal of how he wishes the world to view him?

". . . I am not especially interested in finding out about the people inside these houses. I am, however, thankful for what they have done. For if one can remove ones blinders and biases and look at these houses, and countless others like them, as visual objects, they can become yet one more rich and joyous visual experience in our lives."

Visitors to Ellarslie first encounter Barry Snyder's constructions in the hall by the staircase. They are humorous, tender warm and fascinating, especially "Mother With Child."

Moving into the room where the constructions are displayed (the works of each artist are in separate rooms) the visitor could be overwhelmed, but the large, sunlit room is perfect to capture their spirit, allowing just enough space around each.

These artworks drawn from recognizable objects are a curious lot. Synder takes the objects, adding a little bit here and a little bit there, to create works of art that have new identities. But don't get too caught up in trying to figure out what used to be what. Just enjoy.

"Thirty-five years of studying and collecting in the arts have contributed to my intuitive abilities as a sculptor," Synder writes. "Primitive art has been a strong influence on my work, as I feel these artists have created some of the most beautiful and universal forms made by man."

His link with primitive art is evident in the touching "Mother and Child" and the haunting "Memories of Ancient Voyages," among others. "Joy and Sorrow," an old violin case opened up, looks like a pair of slightly sinister tribal masks. "Universal Love," "Noble Spirit," and "Dancing Bear" are quite whimsical.

Annelies van Dommelen professes "a short attention span for individual mediums but a wide span for the total learning process of "artistic expression."

The three mediums Van Dommelen prefers, paperwork, etching/embossing and watercolor, strike a balance. "Working with varying tightness and looseness produces a symbiotic relationship between the pieces," the artist says.

The handmade paper in the show is beautiful and, at last check, is selling quite well. The rough texture of the paper is augmented by interesting doodads: some even sparkle, such as the magnificent "Flash," which really does flash.

"The paperwork is appealing to my sense of educated play - bringing into it lost arts of previous years such as embroidery, beadwork and papier mache," the artist says.

Van Dommelen's etchings are detailed and precise and people with muscular, faceless figures, often with a flexed leg to show off taut muscles. "The etching/embossing is a practice of patience, surprise, mistakes, uncontrollable textures along with what is obviously fine-lined and definite," Van Dommelen writes.

The muscular figures reappear in some of the watercolors, most notably "I Can Recall My Desire," a bizarre struggle, and "Last Dance," a free flowing work. "Face It" is a very disturbing work, full of hard, sharp angles.

"Watercolor - an old and 'never finished' love. Expression, human conditions, design, controlling water and color, impossible perfection, challenge, therapy," Van Dommelen writes. "Excitement and disappointment are constant in my watercolors."

Barbara Klein mixes wax, and sometimes sand, with her oil paints to create an unusual, inviting texture.

Forms dissolve into waxy suggestions of objects. The figures in "Three Swimmers" are there, sort of, as three flesh-colored balls "swimming" in a vast, black, "pool". And in "Big Floater" the grey figure reclines in black space.

"Enemy Within and Without" is a malevolent piece in black with touches of bright red and a dark black-red suggesting blood.