Trenton Offering Art Doubleheader

The New York Times
Sunday, July 26, 1981
by Vivien Raynor

New Jersey artists, known and unknown, are getting attention in both of Trenton's museums right now. At the State Museum through August 30 is a major retrospective by Jacob Landau, the printmaker, while at the City Museum in cadwalder Park is the third in a series of shows by local protagonists. This exhibition , which will continue through Thursday, is co-sponsored by the museum and the Trenton Artists Workshop Association.

Mr. Landau, who is nearly 75 years old, was born in Philadelphia, but has lived for almost 30 years in the Monmouth County community of Roosevelt. He trained at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, the New School for Social Research and academies in Paris. On the faculty of Pratt Institute since 1957, Professor Landau is a successful commercial illustrator and designer and, in addition, has produced several suites of prints. His major works include lithographs illustrating John Ciardi's translation of "The Divine Comedy" and the writings of E.T.A. Hoffman.

Focusing mainly on the last three decades, the exhibition indicates that Mr. Landau's style has been determined to a great extent by the mediums he has worked in. Wood- and lino cutting encouraged the spiky and stricated forms for which he was initially known, while lithography, which Professor Landau turned to in the 60"s, yield cleaner, more rounded shapes and a more Surrealist atmosphere. The subject of humanity has been a constant throughout.

This artist's vision of humanity took on in Europe after World War II. Like Leonard Baskin's, which it often resembles, it is very much the product of the stylized realism that derived from Picasso in his Surrealist phase. The sculptor, Marion Marini, with his short-bodied, stilt-legged figures loaded with connotations of war and displacement, was perhaps the movement's chief ornament. In any event, few representational artists of the time were able to resist a mode that dealt with "big" themes.

Mr Landau seems to fit his figures and animals into a pre-existing vision, much like carvers who subordinate their forms to the character and shape of the black. Consequently, it is sometimes hard to figure out his subject; for example, the 1963 woodcut of figures in a happening could as easily be symbolizing man's inhumanity to man, as could a 1965 lithography of figures piled surrealistically on a scaffold under the title "Palace."

An accomplished technician who delights in dense textures and, occasionally, brilliant colors, Mr. Landau has covered a great deal of esthetic ground in his life. Here and there, he reflects influences as diverse as Ben Shahn and Peter Max, but always at the center is the cultivated man addressing a like-minded audience. To get the most from his complex imagery, it is neccessary to believe in the perfectability of man.

No such faith is needed to appreciate the four solo shows at the City Museum, which is in the Ellarslie mansion. Selected by the museum's director, Ben Whitmire, and by Elizabeth Ruggles of the aforementioned Workshop association, the particapants are all in their 20's and 30's.

A former student of Paul Resika's, Regina Tracy shares with her teacher, and with artists such as Robert Dash, a tendency to summarize landscape in bold expressionistic sweeps of color. She is a ragged painter capable of such high points as the view of a sunlit meadow bordered by a reddish road and the dramatic portrait of a Mexican woman.

But Miss Tracy can sometimes drop clinkers of color, like the forms - rocks, presumably - in the view of a river with trees that are of too industrial looking a pink for nature. Also, her other figure studies tend to be drab and weakly drawn.

Dallas Piotroski shows canvases and silk-screen prints of flowers that are treated singly and in groups, pr arranged in compartments. Miss Piotroski obviously knows her subjects, but it is only in her twin paintings of giant sunflowers that she makes a strong esthetic statement. Done on tall, thin canvases, these well-painted golden flowers make very handsome emblems indeed.

A photographer since 1972, David Doonan says in a written statement that his subjects are "the isolation of the individual, fear of death and the hope of life after death." His black-and-white images, though consist of buildings, landscapes and dead animals.

The slightly crude print quality serves to heighten the impact of the corpses, especially that of a deer lying disemboweled on a road. Possibily, Mr. Doonan is testing his own capacity for feeling.

Except for the study of a bird on its back in the grass, a dandelion growing along the side, Mr. Doonan's pictures lack compassion in a manner that recalls the paintings of Andrew Wyeth.

Dominating the gathering is the display by Steven Zorochin, a sculptor obsessed by firemen. Mr Zorochin's figures - booted, helmeted and slickered - come in various sizes and are cast in either bronze, fiberglass or plaster.

Some, like the bearded, saintly looking "Old Timer" are portraits; others are full-lenght figures standing, kneeling or just helping one another along.

All the sculptures register in their stances the emotions attendant on this arduous vocation and, if a photograph of the sculptor at work is a reliable guide, many of the faces are self-portraits (Mr. Zorochin himself is a volunteer fire-fighter).

To make matters even more fascinating, the firemen are interspersed with small male nudes. The show also includes a crucifix and a pair of painted plaster work shoes (life size, but lacking soles and laces).

If Mr. Zorochin were part of the New York City scene, he might by now have intensified the fetishistic side of his art, for better or worse. Already, there is, in the head of a young black apprentice wearing goggles, an uneasy affinity with Nancy Grossman's male images costumed in black leather. But the way things are going now, this former student of Joe Brown, the monumental sculptor, expresses his passion in the most prosaic, academic terms.

Perhaps it is the implications of kinkiness lurking behind the artist's dedication and sincerity that make his work so memorable.