WEST ORANGE, NJ — The JCC MetroWest is hosting two exhibits of photographs and paintings from artists with whom the West Orange community may be familiar. One has made a name for himself within the township’s burgeoning art scene as both an award-winning photographer and a former chairman of the West Orange Arts Council. The other is well-known locally for his role as executive director of the West Orange Public Library, but is actually a lifelong artist who has painted all over the world.
And while their works on display are strikingly different from each other, Bill Cofone and Dave Cubie are both equally excited for the West Orange community to see their latest efforts.
Former WOAC Chairman Cofone’s series “From My Eyes to Yours” and library Director Cubie’s series “Black and White” opened in the Gaelen Gallery East and the arts/theater lobby, respectively, on Jan. 10 and will continue to be shown there through February. All featured pieces are for sale.
For Cofone, who earned the gallery exhibit after placing first in the photography contest at the Gaelen Juried Art Show for the second year in a row, the chance to display his work was also an opportunity to experiment with an unlikely form of technology he had never before used professionally: the iPhone. The veteran West Orange artist said he was inspired to explore the capabilities of the device after being impressed by the quality of a picture of two friends on a park bench that he had snapped with his iPhone, even after blowing the image up to 17-by-22-inch dimensions. He said that seeing he could capture a good photo without the hassle of using an expensive, bulky camera made him question the state of photography.
“It’s changed me by making me think ‘Now, wait a minute. For what I want to do, do I really need all this other stuff?’” Cofone told the West Orange Chronicle in a Jan. 7 phone interview. “It’s so convenient to have this iPhone in your pocket so that any time, any place you see something you think would make a good photograph you could just do it.
“The iPhone is changing photography,” he continued. “It’s making it easier to create a photograph.”
Such an endorsement may sound like sacrilege to camera purists — Cofone himself said that he probably would not have been one to praise the iPhone a year ago — but the award-winning photographer said working on the exhibit has made him realize that the type of technology one uses should not matter. The quality of the end result is what really counts, he said.
“If somebody’s going to say ‘I don’t think that’s a good photograph because it came from an iPhone,’ I don’t think that’s fair,” Cofone said. “It’s not so much the tools you use — it’s the person who uses the tools.”
All of the photos featured in “From My Eyes to Yours” are of rather ordinary events, like a group of people crossing a New York City street and or snow falling. At the same time, Cofone said there is something unique about each moment captured, a quality that registers emotion in the viewer. For instance, he said his favorite piece of several riders in a subway car allows the viewer to marvel at how so many vastly different kinds of people can assemble in one place.
Emotion also plays a major role in Cubie’s abstract art. The library director said he never has a clear idea of how a painting will turn out — he starts out making a few marks before letting his thoughts and feelings guide him the rest of the way. By doing so, he said he works in a kind of meditative state that he likens to dreaming, simultaneously processing emotions and outside influences like smell and weather to produce an image that reflects elements of everything affecting him.
As a result, Cubie said viewers must interpret for themselves what his paintings mean because he himself does not know. What is certain, he said, is that his art is not “manufactured.”
“It comes from a genuine place within me,” Cubie told the Chronicle in a Jan. 7 interview. “I think there is a sense that there is something there, but it’s not always clear what’s there. And I think that’s very close to what emotional reality is for most people.”
Those who see the black-and-white paintings and assume that Cubie was in a dark mood while working on them would be making a correct interpretation. The library director explained that in the past year he has grown quite disturbed over the state of the world, from the rise of ISIS to climate change to the shifting of cultural priorities. Making this art was a cathartic way of addressing his feelings on such complex issues, he said.
But the dark paintings belie Cubie’s excitement about exhibiting his pieces in West Orange for the first time. He said sharing his work is important to him because he knows how much art can help others. While serving as a combat medic in Somalia years ago, he recalled that one corporal who always seemed bitter about having to be away from his family only showed happiness whenever he would watch Cubie paint. That shows just how powerfully art can affect people, he said, which is why putting his efforts on display is a priority for him.
“It gives a sense of meaning to the art,” Cubie said. “I do care about people and I do care about what people think and I want to provide a little bit of enjoyment to people.”
JCC MetroWest visual arts manager Lisa Suss thinks visitors will get plenty of enjoyment from the art of Cofone and Cubie, whom she called “extremely skillful.” Suss told the Chronicle that one only has to look at Cubie’s pieces to see just how integral his work is to him. As for Cofone, she said “From My Eyes to Yours” exemplifies exactly why the former WOAC chairman is such a decorated photographer.
“It says a lot about his skills and the fact that he takes advantage of new technology and then uses it so well,” Suss said at the exhibit opening. “I’ve had people in already who go ‘This is done on an iPhone? Oh, he must be using an app. He must be using a special lens.’ They ask about these things. I say ‘No, he’s just a good photographer.’”
The fact that Cofone and Cubie both have West Orange ties is especially gratifying to Suss. The visual arts manager and former WOAC chairwoman said she always tries to feature as many township artists as possible at the JCC MetroWest to show that the town has a vibrant arts community.
Suss just hopes residents will take advantage of this latest chance to take pride in the efforts of their neighbors.
“It’s a great opportunity to see the creativity of your own community,” Suss said.