“The first reconstruction is shape. The second reconstruction is sense and color,” Dan Li, the manager of the Silk Road Art Gallery, told me. “The third reconstruction is the reality we process.”
On a freezing Saturday afternoon, I entered “The Third Reconstruction,” the latest exhibition at the Audubon Street gallery. Run by two Chinese women, it regularly features both contemporary Chinese and talented local artists. On Saturday, Feb. 27, it held an opening reception for the solo show of local artist Karen Dow.
Before I could take in the art on the surrounding walls, try the assortment of snacks and drinks or even soak in the gallery’s warmth, a cheery woman accosted me, shaking my hand and greeting me in broken English.
Gallery owner Liwen Ma brought her experience in art and business from China to New Haven two years ago. Earlier in the week, I had interviewed her for a News piece where she described the gallery’s aim: to increase understanding of Asian art in New Haven, a city Ma chose due to its academic climate and international environment. Today, she happily chatted about the success of the installation and the reception.
Dow’s prints and paintings, mostly grouped into twos and threes, hung on clean white walls. All her pieces were square or near-square, filled with other rectilinear shapes touching and overlapping each other. Squares and rectangles popped up both within a single work and around the gallery in different sizes and colors, unifying the entire gallery space despite its irregular layout.
Ma’s ambition to provide a space where community members and local artists could meet and interact seemed inherent in the room’s arrangement. Matching furniture sets provided comfortable seating, and various bookshelves — which housed art books, Chinese ceramics and potted plants — divided the space, often forming clusters of people. Among them, crowds of news correspondents, curious community members and other local artists gathered — studying the art, chatting with each other, drinking white wine. I awkwardly sipped iced tea from a plastic cup instead, and plopped down on one of the couches, staring at three large paintings.
“Side Effect,” “Arcadia” and “Nova,” all done on 30-by-34 foot canvases, are three of Dow’s most recent works. Among the first pieces noticed by an observer, the paintings sit near the front of the gallery, illuminated by natural lighting.
Dow’s works explore relationships: between form and color, material and shape, negative and positive space and surface and depth. Her working process involves spontaneous painting and repainting, constant editing, taking away and adding, until balance is achieved in every area. Harmony arises as a result, despite the constraints of a square frame.
For Dow, the “Third Reconstruction” theme signifies this process. Coincidentally, she said, she painted over each painting three times. The finished product, what we see on the surface, is the third layer, and the result of three reiterations. Because of this, the foreground and the background closely interact, each supporting the other, and the boundary between the two is often blurred. There exists “a tenderness,” Dow explained, in the way these relationships are created — each shape’s meaning is dependent on those around it.
But the works’ “human quality” really attracted me to her works. Dow described how she manually created all the shapes in her prints and paintings. Instead of using instruments such as tape or rulers to produce exact, square shapes, she allowed the edges to waver and imperfection to show through. Dow improvises and relies on intuition throughout her process, and her resultant works exude authenticity.
Further into the gallery hung smaller monotypes. Dow views her prints as a preparatory sketch for larger paintings, and an arena to generate imagery. On one wall, there hung three pieces titled the “Laws of Coloring,” monoprinted with gouache. Her approach to color theory, much like her painting process, hinged on relationships.
“The way I think of color is born out of the methodology of keeping an open relationship between colors,” she explained. “It’s about watching what happens when colors come together.” Indeed, the three prints, although similar in size and compositional elements, featured distinct color schemes that, working together with the rectilinear shapes, created a sense of unity.
The exhibition also featured a few ceramic pieces by another local artist, Kiara Matos. Her pieces, influenced by vibrant color and nature, convey her Venezuelan roots. Her objects also explore play and functionality, and added to the gallery’s homey décor.
I felt at ease at the exhibition as I loitered, empty plastic cup in hand, Snapchatting the space. Dow’s abstract pieces spur reflection on various themes, from imperfection to authenticity, and are complemented by Matos’ different take on color. But although both artists have displayed art worth discovering, and most people go to art galleries for art, I would go back to the Silk Road Art Gallery for its low-key space, harmonious arrangements and international elegance.