In an arrangement of form, light and color, Ileen Kaplan and Michael Maxwell, a husband-wife couple who have created art and music together for years, make art that captures the essence of their subjects.
Community Arts Partnership (CAP) ArtSpace, a not-for-profit organization on The Commons, is exhibiting “Essence,” Kaplan and Maxwell’s most recent collaboration, through Nov. 28. Interspersed throughout the ArtSpace gallery, Kaplan’s paintings and Maxwell’s photographs show abstract embodiments of nature and digitally altered pictures of elegant animals against contrasting backgrounds.
CAP ArtSpace has supported artists at all stages of their artistic development for over 25 years. The organization provides funding and helps artists with their professional development, and works to connect the Ithaca community to its local artists.
The couple have a history in the arts. They established two pottery businesses together, “Old Mill Pottery” and “In the Clouds Porcelain,” when they first moved to Ithaca. At one point, they were also songwriters for their band, Regular Genius. As Ithaca locals, Kaplan and Maxwell visit CAP ArtSpace for the gallery nights held on first Friday of every month. Now, Kaplan finally has her first set of abstract paintings mounted on the wall alongside her husband’s photographs.
Kaplan said her primary interest in college was music but that she always had an affinity for the visual arts. Her initial inspiration to paint came from a trip to Germany in 1999, when she attempted her first painting. She enrolled in classes and workshops to gain experience, but she said she considers herself partially self-taught.
Kaplan’s paintings for “Essence” are the first abstract paintings she has produced. Kaplan said that prior to this, she only created representational work; however, whether abstract or representational, she has always been looking for the essence of her subject matter through the use of light, color and form.
“I wanted to show the nature of [my subject],” she said. “Not just what it looked like, but what it felt like, what it truly was. I start with colors and a lot of marks … [and] that just leads me.”
Since the process of creating a painting is very complex, Kaplan said she continuously evaluates her composition, especially when it is nearing completion. She said she looks at the piece in a mirror or looks at it upside down to make sure the piece is balanced and finished. Kaplan said her goal for her art is to evoke emotion.
“I want people to feel something when they look at the paintings,” she said. “I want people to look and be moved in some way.”
Maxwell met Kaplan at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics. He was a part-time faculty member at Elmira College, was a full-time faculty member at Corning-Painted Post Area School District and has published a book titled “The Part Time Shaman Handbook,” which is a hybrid of prose and visual art. After switching to more administrative jobs, Maxwell said, he needed an outlet for his creativity. He purchased a digital camera and began to electronically alter photographs with software such as Adobe Photoshop.
Maxwell said the process for producing his work is exciting and rewarding.
“It’s like playing electric guitar through effects pedals,” Maxwell said.
He said certain aspects of an instrument, or the photograph, can be selectively enhanced or the effects can be used so much that the photograph isn’t recognizable. He begins his process by changing the hue, saturation and contrast levels and adding filters.
However, he said there is a risk of overdoing a photograph.
“It’s like cooking with spices,” Maxwell said.
Selectively choosing spices or altering a photograph, he said, can create a powerful piece.
The couple were invited by James Spitznagel, curator for CAP ArtSpace, to exhibit their art this November. He also aided in the selection process for the artists’ works and the installation of the exhibit itself.
Spitznagel, an artist himself, has collaborated with Kaplan before, and through their work together, he said he got to know her and her husband’s artistic talent. He said his goal for the year was to make CAP ArtSpace a destination gallery for both locals and visitors and that the participation of local artists, such as Kaplan and Maxwell, is vital to achieving that goal.
“Not only is their work wonderful, interesting and ever-changing, but I knew that people who liked art would like their work,” Spitznagel said.
He said the participation of artists within the Ithaca area gives the community a sense of value.
“It gives the community an identity,” Spitznagel said. “It makes a city a town.”