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    Monday, October 02, 2023

    Nothing is out of bounds in ‘Free Range’ at Hygienic Art

    “Purple Prince,” mixed media on wood by Susan Hickman and Mary Melendez. (Courtesy Hygienic Art)

    Working with a wide variety of mediums, styles and subjects, the one thing the five young Connecticut artists featured in “Free Range” at Hygienic Art in New London have in common is their willingness to “draw outside the lines” to constantly explore, experiment and evolve.

    Whether addressing sociopolitical issues of the day, delving deep into the personal psyche, illuminating irony, poking fun or expressing joy, the outcome is a thought-provoking, visually exciting show.

    Susan Hickman, one of the exhibiting artists and a resident artist at Hygienic Art, curated the exhibition.

    “Hygienic resident artists are required every year to participate in a group show, and also, about every two years, we’re required to curate our own show,” Hickman explains. “So you get to choose the theme, the artists — pretty much put the whole show together.”

    “It’s a great opportunity to be able to utilize this space,” Hickman adds. “It’s really deceiving how big it is.”

    Hickman invited fellow artist Robin Urbani; Bryan Gorneau, who had already been working with Hickman, introduced her to Mary Melendez and Bryan Jerome, and so the group of friends with very different approaches and styles came together to create the exhibit.

    Adding another dimension to the show is that in addition to individual artists’ bodies of work is work that resulted from collaborations among two or more artists.

    “It became the thesis of the show,” Gorneau says. “Working together with someone who works so differently forces you to work in a way that’s really freeing because you’re just feeding off what they did. We wouldn’t really do something together at the same time as we’d start something, give it to somebody else, they’d give it back to us, and we’d keep working it back and forth.”

    Examples of collaborative pieces include “Hasn’t Scratched Yet!” mixed media on wood by Gorneau and Hickman, a humorous take on the evolution of man, hatching from an egg, in which Gorneau painted the figures, objects and words and Hickman added pencil drawings. And “Purple Prince” for which Hickman created the whole background and passed it on to Melendez, who created the collage of Prince.

    “Even within her own work, Mary has a couple of different approaches,” Hickman notes. “One of my favorite pieces is an installation (titled) “Glitter.” She filled all these syringes with different colored glitter and made the whole case they’re in. Mary suffered from a lot of medical problems and I just think this is a really subtle, smart way to interpret some of the things she’s gone through. And it’s really beautiful.”

    Hickman says another one of her favorite pieces in the show is “Clowns and Things,” 12 photographs by Bryan Jerome.

    “It reminds me of a little bit of Instagram and Polaroids, and it’s funny,” she says.

    Also on view is a long-term project of Gorneau’s that he calls his roadside attractions series. In “Finding Americana” he created highly detailed, hand-lettered signs with paint on actual maps with 50 pieces in total; one for every state.

    “I’d love to get a grant and just travel,” he says. “I really wanted to represent being on the road.”

    A beautiful large piece of wood Hickman found while cleaning out the basement of an artist for whom she was working became the inspiration for her mixed media piece titled “The Waitress.” Several other pieces on display follow the same theme.

    “At the time I had various part-time jobs, I was looking for work, talking with friends; it became this food service obsession of mine,” she says.

    “This whole show has made me work a little looser,” Hickman says. “I’m at a point where I do want to push my work in a new direction, try new things.”

    She points out that even the most representational painter in the show, Urbani, is trying to change her work in different ways.

    “She’s playing with gold leaf; playing with presentation of her pieces,” Hickman observes.

    “A lot of shows I’ve been in over the years work on a theme or ‘Oh, I’m choosing this art because (he or she) is an oil painter that paints landscapes,’ and the reason we named this show ‘Free Range’ is we don’t want there to be rules,” Hickman stresses. “We want it to be experimental. We want it to be crossover. We want people to go outside their comfort zones.” 

    About the artists

    Bryan Gorneau is a working artist living in Old Lyme, where he is also studio manager at Studio 80 + Sculpture Grounds. He often uses historical artifacts or “Americana” as a foundation for his works in many mediums. Dismantling both objects and ideas, he seeks to find new ways of understanding and portraying the world around him.

    Susan Hickman is a resident artist at Hygienic Art. She works in mixed media, building on her background in graphic design and photography. She is also a self-taught painter and clothing designer. All the materials and textures Hickman uses inform her vibrantly colored, multilayered, highly textural paintings.

    Bryan Jerome is a multimedia artist raised on the Connecticut shoreline. He is also a filmmaker and professional picture framer. Influences in his life include graffiti culture, pop art and contemporary artists like Wayne Thiebaud and John Wesley. He says he makes art for the sake of fun and loves bright, bold colors and how they relate and react to each other.

    Mary Melendez had a medical condition that threatened and altered her life as an adolescent and continues to influence the subject matter of her art today, in which she abstractly portrays the relationship between medical treatments and human identity. Melendez also celebrates pop culture through her two-dimensional mixed media works.

    Robin Urbani was raised in Black Point in an artistic family. She strives to “sculpt” with paint to create a dimensional feel to her work and prefers to paint from direct observation, hoping to transfer the light, color and emotion she feels and sees in the subject. She also incorporates fantastic or ethereal imagery from ideas she find compelling.

    “Hasn’t Scratched Yet!” mixed media on wood by Bryan Gorneau and Susan Hickman (Courtesy Hygienic Art)


    What: “Free Range” art exhibit

    Where: Hygienic Art Gallery, 79 Bank St., New London

    When: Through June 25. A closing reception will be held June 22 from 8 to 10 p.m. The gallery is open hours are Tues. -Thurs., 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sun., noon to 3 p.m. Free admission.

    Info: Call (860) 443-8001 or go to http://hygienic.ning.com/events/free-range

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