America Series, 1995—2023
Mixed media collage with burned books, projection, and smoke machine.
Czech born, Israeli American, Shalom Neuman is an artist who defies boundaries with his medium, with his content, with his style. Informed by the life and world around him, by the history and events that have shaped him, his family, the people who have died and lived and continue to live in our hearts and minds as well as those who are still with us and help create what transforms simple behavior into the complexities of culture. Having fled the Nazi’s from Eastern Europe, Shalom’s parents found themselves in Russia with an ultimatum, become Russian citizens or go to Siberia. They chose the gulag over losing their national identities, a harsh punishment, but much less severe than what was instore for the ones who could not get out. Surviving the work camps of the Russians and returning to Prague where Shalom was born, the family then had to flee again for the crime of fighting for a democracy, which lead them, quite literally, to the shores of Israel where Shalom spent his formative years living in tents, with many other Jewish refugees, on a beach that was routinely shelled. Shalom and his family were fortunate enough to have a sponsor and finally escaped the bombardment to emigrate to the United States where they set themselves up in Pittsburgh for a new beginning. The many lifetimes Shalom lived in his youth educated his world and personal views, his understanding of the human experience and of art and poetry and how art and poetry translate and explore our world and ourselves. Influenced by many sources, Shalom Neuman produces artworks that exercise at the same time, our many senses, sight, sound, smell, touch. Not satisfied to simply hang something flat on a wall and look at it, Shalom’s Fusionism brings his work to life to be a living thing in the room affecting the numerous realms of human sensory contact.
Neuman, who has been a principle player in the Fusionism movement since the 1960s and attached to and associated with other expressions and groups such as the Rivington School and The Unbearables, brings three new worlds into view with this show in only the way he can with his flare for understanding color and how different objects placed in extraordinary circumstances or shaped into what is less ordinarily seen or understood can illuminate the darker parameters for what will visually enlighten.
Influenced by the Ray Bradbury book, “Fahrenheit 451 (Where There Is Fire There Is Smoke)” introduces a sculpture of burned books woven like a quilt to present a wall of charred shapes, of titles, of philosophies and found knowledge that come together in the message of resistance to the growth of fascism in the United States. The understanding that Nazis burn books and even the most well intended moralist when burning a book is behaving like a Nazi is on display in the ever present American fascist hypocrisy of using free speech to silence others, a hypocrisy that many book burning moralists do not seem to see, in the smoke that blinds, where the subtitle comes into play as Shalom has pivoted the familiar phrase to let us know that there is a fire and in this fire there is a blindness, an ignorance. Combining videoed images of Nazis and Americans burning books the point is made clear, not just of the modern American fascist burning books, but of the American public caught in the smoke screen that fosters a dulled lack of outrage moving right to the viewer viewing the piece, surrounded by the attitude that, with the images of 1930s Germany, it is happening somewhere else, to someone else, an attitude broken by the artwork to be a defining moment of clarity standing in front of them.
“Amerika” has Neuman making portraits from found objects of poets and writers he has collaborated with over the years. People with outside and, at times, much brightened understandings that shed light on the roads of the miasma of our world and the tangled lives we live. To illustrate these signature views and knowledges and wisdoms of loves and peaces, of fights and revelation, Shalom had brought together objects, the pieces and shapes that tell the stories of these people’s lives and wisdoms in the most modern ways of how a personality can translate through such common objects found around the house, the store, the street to come together to generate what are then when viewed the simple acts of behavior emanating from the sculptural image, the thing brought life to have a life of its own in the story of who it represents.
The third part of this three part show is “Everyone Is Talking At Me”, a reference to the Fred Neil song covered by Harry Neilson for the movie “Midnight Cowboy” and used in the movie to illustrate the isolation and emotional desperation of Joe Buck as he is being crushed by his luckless life as a gigolo. Here Neuman turns that tale of the song somewhat around to bring about illuminated faces painted onto the glass works of Jiri Pacinek a Czech born glass artist who has studied with and worked with Borok Sipek, Rene Roubicek, and Leon Applebaum among others. The glass sculptural pieces shed different color lights into the room they are shown to display the different character of the faces portrayed, the different personalities, talking through the light, communicating to us what comes through the glass, through the expressions portrayed and into the field of the viewer that is literally lit in different, soft, beautiful colors, by the artwork itself. Jiri Pacinek has worked with artists all around the world and has pieces in the most recent Netflix Knives Out movie “Glass Onion”, and has in combination with Shalom shown why this great talent is in demand as these pieces so easily draw whoever is near them into their ethereal glow.
E.F. Higgins III Doo Da Postal Art
E.F. Higgins III (1949-2021) grew up in a small town outside of Chicago, IL and was a member of the Rivington School. While at University of Colorado, Higgins’ interests in painting and printmaking led him to create a number of works including play money, stock certificates, stamps, mining claims, postcards, posters, letterheads, labels, maps, and blueprints. These are all considered “non-art” or commercially produced 2-D visuals. After moving to NYC, he began extensively producing correspondence art, leading to his invention of the Doo Da Post. The Doo Da Post is a stamp created for the made-up country of Doo Da. He has created 780 editions of Doo Da stamps. Higgins continued to develop his creative language with stamp-making in his back pocket. The painting of his most recent works, The FireCracker Label Series, applied strong colors and graphic lettering–trademark designations that Higgins carried on from his stamp-making. This series is painted with acrylic on canvas board. These pieces incorporate a pop art aesthetic, availing imagery of the American West placed in a logotype context to portray playful renditions of folklore, nostalgia, and circumstances.