The light of dreams and darkness of obsession are inextricably bound. Sigmund Freud was not the first to tap into the connection, but his theories on the subject are certainly among the most well-known. Here on Long Island, some of that same insight is felt in the wide-ranging and thought-provoking group show “Daydreams and Nightmares” at Greenport’s hottest gallery, VSOP Art + Design Projects. This surprising show has something for daydreamers who prefer melodies in the major key as well as viewers who prefer the minor. 

Some of the works on view manage to unite both modes. The light dances on the glittery, glossy acrylic surfaces of Kymia Nawabi’s large (72 x 36 inches) work on paper, We Carry the Wait. This piece has an almost paradoxical gravitas, considering the delicate and brightly hued filigree of meticulously drafted ornament, luminous and seductive, that dazzles along the surface. But the emotional heaviness belies the optical legerdemain. This is where drawing meets painting in a way that reveals the cultural differences between the Eastern and Western aesthetics that have so long separated the two.

Nawabi uses the stacked figures of the crouching women in a cumulative way, exerting pressure upon the woman at its foundation who replicates the pose of the topmost figure. Nawabi won the top prize on the last season of Bravo network’s reality show, “Work of Art,” as judged by Jerry Saltz and others. For what it’s worth, in her case the prize translated into $100,000 and a show at the Brooklyn Museum. 

Sometimes a show hinges on one turning point, the sort of “knee play” that the impresario of the Watermill Center, Robert Wilson, once taught me furnishes the joint between two contrasting parts of a performance or installation. If I were to identify the precise locus of this seam in the show’s blended dichotomy of darkness and light it would have to be the midpoint of the large painting by Morgan Hobbs, Daydreams and Nightmares.  The viewpoint and dual time frame of the work reminded me of other binary works from the past, including Magritte’s nocturnal/diurnal Empire of Light (1950) and M.C. Escher’s two-way Day and Night (1938).

Like Escher, Hobbs is gazing down on the landscape from a bird’s eye view, riding the rolling terrain from sunlight on the left to a cloudy grey twilight on the right. While the forms bear a certain continuity, the inversion of the colors from the pastoral greens of a summer day to the leaden greys of twilight mirrors the strange logic of dreams and the ways in which they submit reality to metamorphosis.


"Daydreams and Nightmares" by Morgan R. Hobbs, 2016. Oil on canvas in artist’s frame, 47 ½ x 47 ½ inches. Courtesy of VSOP Projects.


That same view of the topography from the clouds is the premise of Map #28, a large and vibrant painting on three panels locked tightly together by Dena Zemsky, who lives and works in Greenport. Look for the red under the mustard yellow as a gauge to the way the artist builds oil and wax in accretions of texture. The source is a map of Indonesia, coded in the emerald greens of a Balinese bamboo forest and the fathomless blues seen in the Lombok Strait where the Wallace Line divides the globe. Clues to Zemsky’s feeling for materials and textures are abundant in the room, where her rough-and-tumble ceramics are also on view.


"Daydreams and Nightmares" at VSOP Projects. Right: "Map #28" by Dena Zemsky, 1989. Oil on canvas in 3 parts, 72 x 108 inches. Courtesy of VSOP Projects.


In person, Jonathan Weiskopf, the founder of VSOP Projects, nonchalantly presents the concept of the “Daydreams and Nightmares” exhibition less as a Manichean contest between dark and light forces and more as a fluid, user-friendly collection of loosely related works. Still, in a group show built on the dichotomy between dream and nightmare, it is only natural that some works will appeal to a particular aesthetic more than others.

As absorbed as I was by the subtle poetry of Molly Rapp’s lighter-than-air Anima, for example, I was less enamored of two over-the-top portraits by Kathleen Brewster, one of her twin sister and one of herself, archly paired in a corner where they grabbed attention like the most attractive guests at a Montauk party. It is paradoxically the strength of a big show in a constrained space that it has room enough to include, in a type of balance that allows space for the eccentric, works that are as off-putting as these along with works that are so congenial. Another visitor is more than likely to saunter up to these two bold paintings and proclaim them the highlights of the show, the best thing to happen the whole summer, while entirely ignoring what I consider to be the absolute must-see piece.


"Anima" by Molly Rapp, 2017. Rust dye and gesso on canvas, 60 x 48 inches. Courtesy of VSOP Projects.


The piece I refer to, one of the quietest in the show, nonetheless has so much to say. It is a large ceramic vessel by Don Reitz that Weiskopf had the marvelous idea of placing on a short pedestal, raising it less than a foot from the ground and necessitating a slight bow at the waist to read the subtle iconography of the politically charged figures on its surface. Weiskopf explained that the purpose of the low pedestal was to bring the piece down to the height of a child, emphasizing the innocent expressiveness of the little pink tank (the color delivers a devastating satirical punch to macho Pentagon procurement lords) and other simple but potent images, including a smudged American flag.


"Tanks, Corporate People" by Don Reitz, 1986. Black clay with vitreous engobes and clear glaze, 32 x 17 x 17 inches. Courtesy of VSOP Projects.


Reitz uses vitreous engobes (mixtures of clay, water and other materials, like flux and silica) to apply the images to the vessel, which has some of the rough magic of a Peter Voulkos pot. That is no coincidence.

Reitz was part of that heroic generation that included Voulkos, whose experimental audacity led to far-flung technical breakthroughs—salt glazing and apertures ripped into the pots—the ceramic answer to bebop in jazz. Reitz, who died in 2014, had a wood-fired anagama kiln on his ranch along the Verde River outside of Clarkdale, Arizona. The piece should be savored from 360 degrees.

Step gently around it into the corner and a wealth of figural and graphic episodes roll into view. It made me think of Keats and his Ode on a Grecian Urn, the ultimate ekphrasis (verbal translation of a work of art) that ends in the triumphant mantra of aesthetes everywhere: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty/That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”


BASIC FACTS: “Daydreams and Nightmares” is on view August 10 to September 25, 2017 at VSOP Art + Design Projects, 311 Front Street, Greenport, New York  11944.


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