By CHRISTINA LAUREL
Written for Artkestry
An antidote to the monochromatic winter landscape can be found at My Sister’s Gallery, through March 1, in the collaborative work of wife/husband team Cheryl Olney and Don Olney. Viewers will be moved to begin dancing alongside the colorfully whimsical mixed-media work in their exhibit “Some Things Old, Some Things New.” Or at least smile.
The mix of their media involves figurative wood cutouts layered with signature spirals and then colored by Don and Cheryl, both self-proclaimed self-taught artists who bring toy-making and social work backgrounds to their craft and their art. Both genres are skillfully blended by the duo, who have been married for more than a quarter century and collaborating for 15 years. “Everything we do is jointly done,” states Cheryl.
While 2-D artists strive to transform surfaces into illusions of three-dimensionality, the Olneys are clear cut (pun intended) in presenting their 3-D material as if it is two dimensional. The artwork begins as a pen-on-paper drawing, scanned and tweaked, then laser cut from 5×5-foot Russian Baltic birch in their Sutter Industrial Park studio, sanded, and finally airbrushed in color. Cheryl notes that sanding creates a feel that is good to the hand but doesn’t raise the grain. The colors are not saturated, opaque or glossy but are applied to enhance and reveal the wood substrate.
Henri Matisse’s cutouts and Romare Bearden’s collages are not referenced, but rather kneaded together to create a new, graphic and contemporary bread. Perhaps while listening to Mahalia Jackson and Duke Ellington. “We work to make art, peace, joy, amends, and to live like we mean it,” state the Olneys in the exhibit program and on their website. Their work certainly affirms this sentiment, echoed by the predominant themes of friendship, family, fun and community.
While “Dancing to the Music” reflects the comical end of their spectrum, with a male and female figure “cutting a rug” together in oversized gestures and shoes, “Gwendolyn Deborah” represents the more refined and stylized end. “Dancing’s” figures are full blown while “Gwendolyn’s” figure is a drawing in space, interior contour lines in red layered on a 3×1-foot silhouette of amethyst. There is power in numbers and thus “Gwendolyn” is replicated twice – once in red on goldenrod and again in cobalt on poppy. The model is imagined as diminutive albeit not in demeanor; her radiating hair declares her feminine presence as nothing less than the rays of the sun itself.
Most works are unframed; an exception is a personal favorite, a shadowboxed “Ladies with Skinny Legs” whose two female figures lean towards each other in quiet conversation. Among the freestanding pieces are a series of non-figurative “Abstracts in Loving Color” that employ a varied application of layers of the grid and spiral motif. The palette of primary and secondary colors, bright but not overwhelming nor cloying, works here as well as in the figures. The abstractions are often featured pieces in their fine-craft venues. “One day I would like to have a show of just abstracts,” states Cheryl, although she knows the queries about their figurative work will be forthcoming.
Unfortunately My Sister’s Gallery falls victim to a pitfall common to hallway galleries: poor lighting, hot spots, and dark corners. Frustrating to this viewer but overshadowed by the exuberance of the work. If you miss this venue, the Olneys will be exhibiting at the Genesee Co-op Federal Credit Union on Gregory Street in the spring, and at the Memorial Art Gallery’s Clothesline Festival.
My Sister’s Gallery at The Episcopal Church Home, 505 Mt. Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620. Admission is free and open to the public, wheelchair accessible. Gallery hours: daily 10am-8pm. For My Sister’s Gallery information: Diane Cotton, 585-546-8400 ext. 3102. For more on Cheryl and Don Olney: http://www.louisesdaughter.com/.