WEST ORANGE, NJ — Four artists have work hanging on the walls of the West Orange Arts Center until May 21 in a pop-up exhibit. The art includes needlepoint, clay masks, collages and paintings created by artists Leslie Jacobsen, Carol T. Jenkins, Monica Sztybel and Rachel Pruzan, who were at the WOAC on May 7 for an artist reception and the opening of the exhibit.
Sztybel’s needlepoint pieces depict such celebrities as George Harrison and the actors from the television show “Starsky & Hutch.” The patterns are based on photos; Sztybel adds backgrounds and sometimes changes the colors. She learned how to needlepoint as a teenager, when the Livingston Public Library offered a weekend class.
“I took to it and it ballooned from there,” Sztybel said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the gallery on May 7. “I’ve done pets, cars, and people have asked me to do photos of their husbands.”
Sztybel used to work in television production, so she enjoys focusing her work on pop culture and characters whom many people recognize. Eventually, she wants to create needlepoints of the other three members of the Beatles, in addition to the members of the band Queen and some of her own travel photos.
“I’m starting to branch out and sketch my own designs,” Sztybel said. “Sometimes when I’m working off a photo there isn’t a background, so I add in wallpaper. The colors match to a point, and then I change it because it might be black and white.”
Pruzan’s work in the gallery is done in oil paint and alcoholic ink, a material not typically used to make art — the alcohol is most often used as a paint brush cleaner. Pruzan likes to use it because of the distortion effect it has on the paint.
“You dream about something in your mind, but your mind distorts it,” she said in an interview with the Chronicle at the gallery. “Everything we perceive is distorted by our own lenses. The paint is distorted by the alcohol. People see different things in it, and I like the shifting perspectives.”
Pruzan doesn’t plan her pieces when she starts them, instead just letting the paint fall where it wants to. With the materials she uses, she always has the option to go back and change something, even if a piece is finished and hanging on a gallery wall.
“Acrylic paint and alcoholic ink stay moving,” Pruzan said. “I like taking something that’s not typically used and taking the prettiness out of art. I’m seeing things I want to change now, and I might.”
Jacobsen’s work focuses on faces. She has been making masks out of stoneware clay since 2006, after taking a trip to Santa Fe, N.M., and seeing the Native American art in the area.
“There was something about the faces I was attracted to,” Jacobsen said in an interview with the Chronicle at the gallery. “I often feel that they have personalities.”
The masks are made of clay and painted with different colors, and Jacobsen adds other elements, such as hair, glasses and accessories. She wants viewers to be able to see the emotion on the faces, especially after the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, when masks have been covering real people’s faces.
“I know they don’t appeal to everyone, but I love them,” Jacobsen said. “I find them very fun and playful. When people see them, they have an emotional response. The faces reveal layers of emotions and the expressions. Faces emote. Everyone has some kind of feeling, and it can be recognized on a face.”
A graphic artist by trade, Jenkins said in an interview with the Chronicle at the gallery that she started making collages about 10 years ago. She uses all recyclable materials that she saves; the photos come from magazines and stickers, paper and other materials from the dollar store. One of her pieces at WOAC centers on movement; there are people dancing, embellished by colored paper and magazine cutouts.
“I see something I like and then build around that,” Jenkins said about how she starts a collage. “There’s a flow to it.”
Reusing materials is something Jenkins has been doing her whole life. She said her mother would save and recycle everything, from fish bones to calendar photos, which she would then turn into placemats.
“She was the only person on the block who never had any garbage, because she kept everything,” Jenkins said. “So I definitely get it from my mom.”
The WOAC pop-up exhibit will be open to the public on May 14 and May 21 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Photos Courtesy of Mike Brick and Patricia Mitrano