Kaitlyn Donovan, gallery coordinator for ROTA, explained the long process of creating
PLATTSBURGH — Paintings, poetry, sculptures and photographs of Barbie dolls—it’s all on display at ROTA Gallery’s Staff Art Show.
The exhibition, which kicked off with an opening reception Saturday, March 9, is a curiosity-seekers delight and a glimpse into the minds behind Plattsburgh’s co-operative arts and community space.
Some of the artists seem to stick with a single theme or medium, while others take an exploratory approach.
ROTA member Jeremy Colwell has been making art since he can remember, and his pieces reflect a variety of tones, some serious, some bright and whimsical.
One piece, a drawing surrounding a single piece of brown felt laid behind a hole in the paper, is representative of the different perspectives present in his work.
“This one took me a long time to finish,” Colwell said, pointing to the drawing. “The entire thing started off as scratches and scribbles on the paper, and then I would go in and fill in the shapes.”
Colwell explained that the finished product, which took a year to complete, is like a diary, with each form representing a period in his life.
The same can be said for his other paintings, which all seem to draw from moments in his life.
“ROTA has been a really good place for me,” Colwell said. “I used to be a lot quieter, and more hidden in my shell. It’s helped me become more social.”
The philosophy of bringing people together to create a strong sense of culture and community is an intrinsic part of what ROTA strives to do for the North Country.
Part of that culture, the familiarity of the interior of some of Plattsburgh’s oldest downtown buildings, is captured in ROTA member Jess Rigby’s photography.
Rigby uses long exposure times—20 to 30 seconds—to reproduce the deep reds and long shadows that inhabit many of the edifices.
Rigby also likes to place herself in some of her work.
“I like that the slow shutter gets the natural light in the room without using a flash,” Rigby said. “I don’t look for anything in particular when I photograph, I just know it when I see it.”
Beneath Rigby’s photographs is a small, white, wooden stand with four silver objects placed on top of it.
The objects are cameras, but only in shape and size.
They are cast iron sculptures, poured by Kaitlyn Donovan, gallery coordinator for ROTA.
The process of creating an iron counterpart of a camera is a time consuming affair, and also requires a small team of people to complete.
First, Donovan covered the camera with silicon caulking to make a mold.
After removing the camera, she filled the silicon with casting wax, which gave her a wax replica of the camera.
Next, she need to create a mold that could hold hot, melted iron.
To accomplish that, she dipped the wax camera into a bucket of ceramic shell, let it dry, and repeated the process several times.
Placed in a kiln, the ceramic shell hardened as the wax melted, creating an empty space for the iron, which is heated in a furnace and carefully poured by a team of at least four people.
The result is a highly detailed, iron facsimile of a camera.
She also used a more traditional, sand mold method to create other iron cameras.
The camera is placed into a box of sand—the finer the grain, the more detailed the final product will be—that has a catalyst added to it.
The catalyst causes the sand to harden, creating a mold of the camera once it’s removed.
Donovan said this process is faster because it requires fewer steps, but the trade-off is a less detailed piece.
“I have other things I’ve sculpted using metal,” Donovan said. “I like cameras and I collect them, and I feel like this is kind of an homage to this dying thing. It’s like a gravestone for these old cameras.”
Donovan is also a photographer—she’s responsible for the pictures of the Barbie dolls, a display she calls “Life is Plastic.”
The photos are in brightly colored frames, and provide a voyeuristic look into the life of the plastic human caricatures, never showing her face.
They are innocent and eeriely reminiscent of the things we do every day—Barbie’s feet emerge from a bubble bath in one shot, in another she relaxes on a chair, perhaps after a long day of work.
“The title ‘Life is Plastic,’ actually came from the Barbie doll song,” Donovan said. “There’s a line in it that goes: ‘Life is plastic, isn’t that fantastic?’ I like to leave that up for interpretation. You know, life is kind of plastic when you think about it.”