AIPAD Features Groundbreaking Work by Arlene Rush in Photography Collection of Joe Baio

Forever Young: Selections from the Joe Baio Collection of Photography steals the show at the 2018 iteration of the AIPAD photography show, the renowned annual photography event in New York City housed at Pier 94 in Manhattan and on view April 5-8. Photographic objects from the collection are suspended, salon-style, with a specific view toward the poignant moments of adolescence and childhood memories.

Among these works, on view from the collection for the first time ever, an artwork by artist Arlene Rush emerges from the cusp of the center and left-facing walls, shimmering as visitors approach. This effect, caused by shattered tempered glass carefully arranged over the surface of the photograph, beckons guests closer to examine a seemingly straightforward portrait of two young women holding hands. These teenage girls, blond and smiling, seem charming yet unsettling… until the viewer realizes they are, in fact, identical twins. Rush was born as a twin to her brother, whose bar mitzvah photo this image was derived from. The two figures stand intrinsically linked in this work, Twins: Just a Memory: the scattered glass creating a mirage of imagined histories. This piece is the first from an identically titled series of work the artist produced reflecting on adolescence and sexual identity.

Arlene Rush. Twins: Just a Memory (2001-05)Digital print face-mounted to plexi and shattered tempered glass

Rush’s Twins: Just a Memory series revisits childhood moments in which the artist mines her personal history and growth as a woman and artist to comment on gender roles and societal norms. The artist has taken the image of her and her brother at his bar mitzvah, re-imagining instead what it would be like for her to experience adulthood from the viewpoint of both male and female. She reflects on the use of the family portrait as entry point into this conceptual rigor. “Kitschy and poignant, [the work] speaks about gender equality and expectations [which] religions and society [place] on us growing up.” These expectations find space to dissolve in these atmospheric works, in which identity is present upon close encounter yet obscured from far away. Rush finds solace in examining the elements of surprise and nuance offered by the veil of shattered glass applied atop the portrait. The forms are identifiable, the dress code clear, yet the results manage to be both surprising and surreal.

Twins Just a Memory: The Missing Piece (2012) Digital print face-mounted to plexi and shattered tempered glass

Questioning the relevance of coded gender norms today versus the artist’s experience growing up in New York City, Rush has worked as a conceptual artist questioning identity in multiple disciplines. The artist has worked across photography, installation work and sculpture, including welding with steel  – a discipline prominently anchored by male artists in the 1970s and 80s when the artist was beginning to work. Starting to blossom in her practice in an era not far removed from the echoes of the male artist-dominated Cedar Tavern, perhaps the artist’s poignant re-examinations of gender expectations – both in her own life and in society as a whole – stand as a testament to the hopes we hold for women to assume prominent positions both in the arts and in the brave new world ahead.

Twins Just a Memory IX (2013) Digital print face-mounted to plexi and shattered tempered glass

AIPAD is on view from April 5-8 in midtown west, Manhattan, at Pier 94. More information on admission can be found on the show’s website.

Camille Eskell Stuns in Neo-Victorians Exhibition, Hudson River Museum

The Neo-Victorians, on view now at the Hudson River Museum, presents a multi-faceted array of contemporary artists engaging with a Victorian-era aesthetic.  The exhibition presents artists by arranging them in themes, such as the artist as “…naturalist, the artist as purveyor of the fantastical, and the artist as explorer of domesticity.” The exhibition, curated by Lehman College Galleries Executive Director Bartholomew F. Bland, is a whimsical and rewarding journey into the past that firmly communicates a contemporary viewpoint. Firmly enmeshed in this contemporary re-visioning of the period lies the works of artist Camille Eskell.

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Camille Eskell. Magic Carpet Ride: Little Maharajah (2017) Digital image, paper, textile trim, mixed media

Identifying as Iraqi-Jewish-American and with family roots in India, Eskell’s work is in dialogue with a multi-cultural aesthetic, carefully balancing the conceptual weight of identity. The artist describes in her own words her impulse to “explore the psychological legacy that shaped [her] perceptions, identity, and motivations.” Expanding her own sense of self-awareness extends to various aptitudes of form, allowing a range of materials and imagery to shape-shift. Eskell summons her compositions together from disparate parts. The artist works across multiple mediums by incorporating sculpture, fabric and found objects together into her mixed-media creations.

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Camille Eskell. Red Fez: Boy, Woman, Byculla, Bombay (2012–15) Felt, silk, mixed media

Eskell incorporates rich visual legacies into her work, at times literally weaving together her family’s history with her own lived experience. The tactile qualities of her objects juxtapose firm with soft, malleable with brittle. Resin and colored pencil blend with unexpected objects, such as dentures. This wide array of materials indicates an intimacy firmly grounding the artist’s approach. In Tattooed Lady: Comin’ up Roses, Eskell creates a fictional female torso beautifully adorned in flowers, yet torn asunder: ripped open to reveal the cavernous hollow beneath the skin’s surface. The artist recalls the role that women in her family assumed, maintaining the household, remaining auxiliary to the men in the family. Teeth embedded in the woman’s flesh seem to reveal the metaphorical state of being eaten alive: of being digested by that which is also holding one’s body together.

Camille Eskell. Tattooed Lady: Comin’ Up Roses (2003) Resin, graphite, colored pencils, false teeth, watercolor, mixed media

The artist’s work interestingly incorporates actual images and portraits of her own family members, commenting on a shared experience through a direct, personal lens. The melange of iconography relates to her family’s livelihood and international influences. Embroidery and traditional craft complement the images of family members, as always highlighting the male lineage. As a female artist working within these confines, Eskell rebelliously asserts herself in spite of these hierarchical expectations. Through representing the continuum of conservative culture in her constructions, yet layering it within her own artistic insights, the artist deftly subjects this consideration of traditional gender roles to her exacting gaze. Fluid yet firm, Eskell questions the place of women, and female bodies, within the cultural norms she was raised to ascribe to.

Eskell has shown at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, ODETTA, David&Schweitzer, and the Chrysler Museum, among other venues. She was recently recognized as a recipient of the prestigious Artist Fellowship Excellence Award from the Connecticut state office of the Arts in 2018. Eskell’s work has been exhibited internationally throughout Mexico, South America and Wales. Eskell holds an MFA in Fine Arts from Queens College, and lives and works in Connecticut.