2021. October 5 - 30th


The Painting Center, NYC
Curated by Izzy Nova

Exhibiting Artists: Beth Barry, Shira Toren, Melody S. Boone, Nancy Elsamanoudi & Susan Luss


This exhibition could not be made possible without the generous support of the 

Caroline M. Lowndes Foundation.

✶ All photos by Miki Yamato


Straight Forward, Image Driven is a group exhibition featuring five contemporary artists who are based in and around New York, all of whom graduated from the interdisciplinary Pratt Institute between 1979 and 2013. These artists work across a range of media but are united by themes and concepts – the engagement with light in the work of Beth Barry and Susan Luss, the interrogation of personal and art histories by Shira Toren, Melody S. Boone, and Nancy Elsamanoudi – and by their interest in imagery and repeating motifs that reinforce their message and continued relevance.

In bringing together these diverse, intergenerational artists, curator Izzy Nova, also a Pratt alumna, says, "It is important to me that artworks in this exhibition here have an immediate impact and that the messages behind the work are relatable, even through an abstract lens. Being the youngest member of the group, I walk into this role just like a student, learning all over again from these imprints."

Light is a central theme in Barry's work, both in her understanding of how it illuminates a scene and as a metaphor for positivity and pleasure. In Sea Wall, an installation comprising 20 individual paintings arranged in a grid, the artist explores both ephemerality and timelessness as the waves, the shore and light come together repeatedly and playfully in distinct ways.

Susan Luss (b. El Paso, Texas) responds to spaces by creating installations that interact with their specificities, such as available light, wind, and architecture. During the pandemic, solitary walks in nature helped her face the unknown, and began to reflect in her abstract landscapes – which she created, transported, and even danced with during various steps of the process. In Pink Moon, 2017-2021, a pigmented canvas flows from the wall like a waterfall. Elsewhere in the gallery, Luss places assorted found objects and personal memorabilia, chosen, dyed, and staged especially for the site, invoking associations and making each rendition of the work performative and unique. 

Images float up from long-gone memories in Shira Toren's 2017 series Envelops / Geo-metrics. As the title suggests, Toren (b. Tel Aviv, Israel) explores nostalgia and heritage through motifs of boxes and envelopes arranged in geometric shapes and patterns on linen. More recently, the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted her to look inward and around from a place of gratitude, resulting in a vibrant mixed media series, Domestic Paintings (Covid 19 days). For works such as Blue Yard, 2020, the artist used both subject matter and scraps of material from her immediate surroundings within her home, finding new value in both.

These series might be a departure from Toren's landscapes – both former, seen in the 2018 works Alone, Formation #2 and Formation #3; as well as in her later explorations of coastlines reminiscent of Barry's Sea Wall. What remains constant, however, is the layering of mediums, including graphite, ink, and Venetian plaster, to create imagery from, in the artist's own words, "residues of my visual recollections."

Melody S. Boone (b. Norfolk, VA) and Nancy Elsamanoudi (b. New Jersey) explores multiple histories, especially art history and representation, through hints of humor. The exhibition features several of Boone's mixed-media works spanning more than a decade, which employ aspects of self-portraiture. The artist uses her physical features as silhouettes and imprints, paring them down to abstract, monochromatic shapes which are nonetheless recognizable, as in Self Study, 2021 and My Black Self, 2012. Boone cleverly employs repetition and caricature to highlight systemic racial discrimination, specifically in the art world.

Boone dialogues with Elsamanoudi, whose work tackles art history from a different angle. In Pink Flowers, 2018 and 2021, as well as Hand, 2019, Elsamanoudi was inspired by a quote from Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby's performance Nanette, which addresses, amongst other things, the objectification and obliteration of women in Western art history. Elsamanoudi, whose practice shifted from the abstract to the figurative in recent years, highlights the sexualization of women through colorful scenes stretched to the absurd. Drawing from Gadsby's assertion that women were portrayed in art as though they were mere "flesh vases" for "dick flowers", the artist challenges the male gaze and traditional symbolism by denying labels and blurring gender norms, and thus power.

As our world, including the art world, gradually emerges and opens up again, there is a hesitation, a precariousness – and an opportunity to be more intentional and engaged. In Nanette, Gadsby says, "Artists don't invent zeitgeists. They respond to [them]." The times certainly call for perspective, accountability, introspection, pleasure, and light.

Kriti Bajaj

✶ Catalogue design by Shazzi Thomas, Director of The Painting Center