"ART, ARt, Art, art fills downtown Buffalo library "
echo Art Fair brings local and national artists together to showcase contemporary artwork
Glass doors opened into a room of stark white walls. Clear glasses of deep red wine were spotted amongst the sophisticated crowd. A DJ in a black T-shirt switched records as she manned a small table in the corner. Light chatter and laughter flitted around the room as ever-changing groups of people moved from space to space, while artists eagerly discussed their craft with perspective buyers.
Local and national artists transformed the second floor of the Buffalo and Erie County Downtown Central Library on Sept. 6 and 7. Each artist was given a three-walled area to hang their work and mingle with buyers and art enthusiasts. Thirty-four independent artists and nine galleries took part in the juried fair, and 13 site-specific installations were constructed, according to Frits Abell, who founded the echo Art Fair.
The fair launched in 2011 in Buffalo and has grown from a one-day event, drawing more than 3,000 visitors to a weekend long show, with guests totaling more than 7,500 in 2013, according to the fair’s website.
Jaime Michelle Smith, a teaching artist at Locust Street Art, was impressed with the caliber and variety of work at this year’s fair. She was surprised by how many artists were not local – artists from Brooklyn, Pittsburgh and Ithaca were at the fair.
Scattered throughout the fair were sculptures, immense quilts depicting naked men and massive photos of clouds.
Locust Street Art, at 138 Locust St. in Buffalo, was also represented at the fair, adding to the eclectic mix. Locust opened in 1959 and has offered free art classes in drawing, photography, painting and animation for more than 50 years.
For two years, Kenn Morgan, who teaches photography at Locust, has hosted an Internet art radio show, Burnham & Dodge Art Hour, with “definitely no sports.” He said the only news shown on TV in Buffalo is either about somebody getting shot or the Buffalo Bills, so he interviews artists of all mediums.
“The most interesting show we’ve done, we had a mime on,” Morgan said.
Siddiq Abdul-Hakim, one class shy of graduating from UB with a degree in the visual arts, currently teaches painting and drawing to teenagers and adults at Locust Street Art, but said he prefers working with children. Although he does “a little bit of everything,” he is most comfortable with painting and drawing.
On the library’s first floor, just before the escalators transporting visitors to the fair, was Bourbon and Coffee, a local “transcendental rock poetry” group, according to the group’s Facebook.
Library books were laid out on the floor in front of a homemade wheel. Visitors were invited to spin the wheel and whatever genre it landed on, Bourbon and Coffee would read a selection from that genre. The group encouraged passersby to become a member of the library and take some of the books on the floor home with them.
Upon entering the expansive exhibit room on the second floor, James Paterson’s “A Prayer Machine” was immediately striking. Each piece was composed of tiny black metal wires roped, knotted and bent around each other to create a surreal kind of circus-work. Wire men with faces distinctly like that in Marc Chagall’s La vie paysanne or Georges Seurat’s The Circus and Le Chahut hung like trapeze artists on Paterson’s “machines.”
Paterson, who hails from Meaford, Ontario, wrote in his artist’s statement that the works are “Reflective embodiments of what is left hanging in the space between us after I’ve met God in prayer; unambiguous 3D drawings, instead of written words, a metaphor grasping at was passed between us.”
Max Collins, a graduate art student at UB and an instructor for Intro to Photography, exhibited photomurals created using wheat paste at the fair. Collins also created a large-scale mural on the marble wall outside the library. The abstract architectural photos were slightly distressed and distorted by the process Collins uses in creating his works.
Not too far from Collins’ exhibit space was the Benjaman Gallery, where Julia Purpera, a UB alumnae, showed off the works of A.J. Fries, Ellen Steinfeld and Bruce Adams, an art critic for Buffalo Spree and a lecturer at Buffalo State College.
Although Purpera was an English major at UB, she currently does graphic and web design work for the Benjaman Gallery. She fondly remembers working under Robert Creeley during his time in the English department at UB for an independent study. The two would get coffee on Saturdays at Caffe Aroma on Elmwood and “just talk about life.”
Perhaps too symbolic of the fair was the magazine collages of Lauren Braun, an artist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Braun’s collages were like fantasy escapes into perfect vacations – seemingly haphazard layering of levitating objects, vibrant colors and eclectic décor to perfectly describe echo Art Fair.
Looking around the room, it was like being part of some underground, quirky family as everyone shook hands, smiled and congratulated each other on their work. Braun was right when she said there were so many interesting things to write about.
Walking back out through the glass doors was like entering a calm lake – still beautiful, surrounded by long wildflowers and tall trees, but it was nothing like the turbulent ocean that the echo Art Fair swept you into.
But, it’s the calm world on the outside that creates the often unnerving, jolting but always intriguing world of art and artists.
Like the white-haired man that looked into the eyes of a tiny infant, held in his mother’s arms at echo said, “This is art, this is the real artwork.”