If you missed the opening on Saturday, April 6, you don’t want to miss the show, up until the 28th of this month at the Walt Girdner Gallery (next door to the Pasadena Playhouse). Luckily doors are open even on Sundays, when street parking is easy and free.
By Toti O’Brien
As its name says, the venue is dedicated to the legacy of photojournalist Walt Girdner, whose B&W prints are permanently on display. Therefore, as we enter, we need to make sure to isolate a body of large works—also Black and White—that belong to the present show and are Rudy Cole’s. They are charcoal on paper, but their masterful technique—in the style of Ira Korman, whom Cole cites as one of his influences—could lead you into believing they are photography instead.
Charcoal is Cole’s medium of excellence, and he perfectly masters it. Although a couple of pieces (one representing Skid Row, the other an unnamed section of town) prove he can render landscape with great ease, portrait is the artist’s main focus. Sometimes formal, more often informal, impromptu—subjects caught in moments of solitude, intimacy or abandon, as in the striking images of homeless people sleeping or preparing for sleep. In such cases the background disappears, smoothed into light, thus endowing the figures with heightened impact and power.
This last is the quality doubtlessly delivered by the whole of Cole’s art—not just by the large, eloquent, self-commenting charcoal pieces, but also by a body of very different works, either interspersed with the former series, or hung by themselves on the Gallery’s center panels.
These—the ‘Women of Culture’ naming the exhibit—are labeled ‘color paper’ and are mixed media. They are built as a smart, thoughtful, unique combinations of collage/assemblage. Cut out silhouettes of women stand against various backgrounds. They wear colorful dresses. Their accessories are often tridimensional, made out of real jewelry, metal and beads.
What first strikes the eye are the exquisite composition and wonderful color patterns of the whole series, so completely satisfying, these could be abstract works and perfect as such. Their bright, festive palette, alternating with the stark monochrome of the charcoals, creates an eerie contrast—yet another keyword to understand Cole’s world.
If we come close and look better, we are amazed by the fact such masterful combinations of tints are obtained with minimum intervention, as the color paper the artist employs is mostly flat–toned and often unaltered. In some cases it is shaded with charcoal, but that’s all. Only in two works the artist has added touches of pastel, otherwise the beauty and complexity is obtained by mere juxtaposition—quite a magic result.
The figures are rarely alone. They are in groups, often in sets of three—maybe an ironic reference to the mythological Graces among whom Paris couldn’t choose? They certainly seem to enjoy each other’s company. This last isn’t an irrelevant note, as it contributes to the sense of happiness—absolutely infectious—that exudes from them all. Actually to visit the Gallery, to stand in front of these girls for a while, could be a sound prescription if you have gotten the blues. These ladies would cure them for sure.
Most of them are bound somewhere, or just standing, proud of their bodily presence. Some are sitting, and we can feel the tangible relief of relaxation and rest.
They are proud of their bodies and proud of their clothes. Dress here is a paramount element. Clothes are also cut-paper silhouettes—the last added, closest to the surface—made out of the most patterned, most elaborate material. They are extraordinarily beautiful, and each a clear statement. Not a cultural one, in spite of the title of the exhibit. Not quite, as these garments can be ethnic or not, reminiscent of the fifties, the seventies, or other eras, often a fantastic mixture of different styles and origins. They are statements because each marries and enhances the body it contains, reveals a personality, and is worn with great attitude. Is choosing what to wear, how to wear it, an art form for Cole’s models? Yes, it is, the artist says. Therefore he makes art about art, honoring the creativity of his subjects with his own.
All-black bodies stand between the colorfulness of the background and that of dresses, jewelry, and accessories. Look at the powerful contrast. It’s the darkness, of course, that makes both background and surface shine. While the patterns, shapes, colors of the clothes are varied and detailed, the sheer black of the bodies is compact, almost untouched, giving out a feeling of metal or rock. Faces have different degrees of elaboration, and deliberately so. Some are left almost blank, as for a backlit photograph. Some features are barely sketched, some are lightly drawn, some are so precise they define an unforgettable character.
At times, the artist says, portraying a face isn’t needed, as the stance of the body says so very much on its own. There is such meaning in a posture, a gesture, in the energy a figure emanates. To leave features blurred enhances, of course, body language.
What do these bodies say again? They are happy. They have power and pride. They have attitude—a word that compounds several qualities, such as grit, resilience and courage. Moreover, they know everything about beauty. They don’t mind revealing their secrets, as they look straight out of the frame. Look forward, look up.
Rudy Cole – Women of Culture 4/07/2018 - 4/28/2018 Location Walt Girdner Photo Studio & Gallery
More about Rudy Cole’s art can be found on his website.
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