SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — South Orange’s Pierro Gallery will present the exhibit “Color Theory,” which opens Nov. 2 and features the work of four artists whose work bursts with color. Santiago Cohen, Robert Forman, Jan Huling and Deb Mell will display their work at the gallery through Dec. 2; throughout the month, gallery visitors will have the opportunity to experience color in different ways.
“I put artists together who use color very vibrantly,” Sandy Martiny, the curator of the exhibit and South Orange director of cultural affairs, said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Oct. 27. “They make you look at the form in a different way. In my mind, they remind me of fairy tales — it’s very magical.”
Each artist works in their own medium — Cohen is a painter, while Forman glues colorful thread to boards to create his art. Huling makes sculptures by gluing beads onto figures in bright patterns and designs, and Mell’s sculptures use mixed media, such as sequins and feathers, that she finds around her studio.
Cohen, who was born and raised in Mexico said the color in his work is influenced by his home.
“They use color in everything,” he said in a phone interview on Oct. 27. “If you go to Mexico and look at the houses, the market, the food — I go in that direction.”
Cohen has three paintings in the Pierro Gallery exhibit, which he said are meant to be political statements. One painting depicts Frida Kahlo’s face with the body of a moth; another shows a girl pumping water, although birds are coming from the spout; the third painting shows boys in a boxing ring wearing chicken masks.
“I wanted to match surreal images with surreal statements,” he said.
Cohen’s work fits into the theme of the show as well as with the work of the other artists. Forman’s thread art is a Mexican technique that he began working with in high school and that he perfected while spending time in that country.
“I started doing this in high school and I thought I’d invented it,” Forman joked in a phone interview on Oct. 27. “Then I went to Mexico and that really opened the world up to me.”
Forman begins a new piece by first drawing it with colored pencils. When he’s happy with the design, he sketches it on a board and begins gluing the thread down, color by color.
“Some are more important than others,” Forman said of the colors he chooses. “There was a period of time when I only used the three primary colors. I want it to be as distinct as possible so that if there’s more than one figure you can see all of them.”
Not everyone actively thinks about how to use color in their art though. Mell just uses whatever materials she happens to have on hand.
“I don’t really think about it,” she said in a phone interview on Oct. 27. “I use erasers, feathers, sequins — anything I could find in my studio I used.”
Mell has three sculptures that she calls “totems” in the show, all of which are between 4 and 6 feet tall. Unlike Forman, she doesn’t sketch out a plan before starting a new piece.
“It’s not effortless,” Mell said. “I just stay open to things as they happen and try to forget a lot of what I know. There’s not prep, I keep it open and let it happen.”
On the other hand, Huling actively thinks about her pieces as she works. She has several bird sculptures in the show, and said color is important to her, in a phone interview on Friday, Oct. 27.
“I’m very into color,” she said. “I start with three or four that I want to concentrate on and that leads to other things. When I put my things together it has a cohesion that you can see; the colors are playing off each other and working together.”
Though each artist has a different approach to how they work, their work fits into the show in different ways.
“I think we’re all obsessive about our art,” Huling said. “The humor and color works and ties us all together pretty nicely.”
“Each artist approaches color differently and with different methods in their own ways,” Martiny said. “They use the color and form the boundaries of what it fits into and what they use.”
Cohen sees color as something that can create a reaction in an audience.
“I used to only work in black and white, and when I learned to apply color it added a whole other dimension,” he said. “There’s volume, depth and you get an emotional reaction. You can create an atmosphere that’s very emotional, I think.”
He also thinks all four artists share common ground, so “Color Theory” makes sense.
“We all come from different backgrounds,” he said. “But there’s a link there. Sandy saw it and I don’t know if I would have. It’s a good match.”
Photos Courtesy of Sandy Martiny