Altered Environments, on display at the Szozda Gallery, 501 E. Fayette St., features two artists who work in different media but share an interest in transformation, in interpreting nature and humanity’s influence on it. Laura Wellner, from the vantage point of a LaFayette hill, observes the sky and creates acrylics conveying a sense of moon, planets and stars, as well as variations in light and darkness. Photographer Willson Cummer, in his “Parklands Series,” focuses on people’s presence in Central New York parks. He has documented the impact of signs, construction equipment and other objects on the natural world.
Wellner’s artworks are clearly non-representational as she plays with colors, textures and shapes in offering her own vision of the sky. In “Blue Moon, August,” a long, vertical work, she mixes in blue and green colors and circle shapes, one of which evokes the moon. In “River of Falling Stars,” a fine piece, she integrates specks referencing cosmic dust, a blue stripe and shapes of celestial bodies.
Other works show there’s no set format for the acrylics; Wellner is relying on her imagination and perceptions of the sky. Indeed, she moves from “Ripple,” with its placement of three circles in close proximity, to “Blue Window,” a tablet-shaped acrylic that contrasts two large bodies with 12 small ones. She has also created “Where Water Meets Sky Number II,” where much of the action is on the borders. This is another abstract work, but viewers do get a sense of streams of water.
In addition to the acrylics, Wellner has several pencil drawings on display, each done in blue and gray on white paper. They aren’t intended to contrast with the acrylic pieces. Instead, they simply inform viewers about the kinds of work she’s currently creating. The drawings, non-figurative and non-cerebral, communicate calm. It’s not surprising that the artist refers to them as meditative.
In his photos, Cummer builds on an overriding theme regarding local parks: interactions between wilderness and areas influenced by humanity. He specifically rejects the notion that when no people are around, entire parks revert to a state of nature. In images taken at Green Lakes State Park, Mill Run Park in Manlius, and sites around Lake Ontario, Cummer documents how various objects influence local landscapes.
One photo, for example, features a “No Trespassing” sign. Certainly there were no people around when Cummer shot this image, and no trespassing took place. Yet the sign itself trespasses on a nearby body of water. Similarly, at Mill Run Park, a solitary metal pole, near some trees, demonstrates humans’ impact. In a third image, a construction crane stands quietly next to a forest.
The selection from the Parklands portfolio not only develops a theme but also shows Cummer’s photographic skills. One image portrays green: green forest with green reflected on a nearby road. Another, one of the best pieces in the exhibit, was shot at Green Lakes, from a hillside above one of the lakes. Right in the midst of this pastoral setting, a fence intrudes, changing the landscape.
Cummer’s project doesn’t assume that people should be banished from parks. He’s discussing the relationship between wilder areas and “half-nature,” where cabins, signs and playgrounds interject an acute visual impact. Beyond that, he’s looking at our perceptions of everyday scenes, at what we accept as commonplace. Finally, he’s touching on how our society uses and controls common space.
Altered Environments provides space, physically and thematically, for both artists’ work. Wellner looks at the same sky as other people in Central New York but combines her viewing with potent imagination. Cummer, like others, walks through local parks but has his own take on them. That’s a nice combination for an exhibition.
The show runs through Sunday, Nov. 4, at the Szozda
Gallery. It’s open Wednesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. through 6 p.m.,
and Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call