Straube Center in the News

Fascinating 'Spring Into the Arts' show now open at Straube Center

By R. Kurt Osenlund, Pennington Post

A 17-year-old photographer and a post-stroke mystery man are among the four artists with work in the exhibition. 

Long has the Straube Center office complex in Pennington been the temporary home of beautiful artworks, hosting seasonal exhibitions with pieces ranging from traditional landscapes to abstract outdoor sculptures. But it’s probably safe to say that none have been as captivating, provocative and fascinating as those now hanging in the “Spring Into the Arts” show, which features the work of two photographers, a sculptor, and one highly unconventional mixed media artist.

“For this show, I wanted the art to be different, but inter-relatable,” says Alisandra Wederich, the Straube Center’s new gallery manager who curated the show – her third since taking the job in October.

Opened on March 12 and set to run through April 23, “Spring Into the Arts” is certainly not your grandmother’s exhibition. Reportedly reflecting 22-year-old Wederich’s own artistic tastes and sensibilities, the work causes the viewer to brake and pause, specifically the work of two artists with especially interesting stories.

Bailey Elizabeth Higgins, a 17-year-old from Newtown, Pa., has dozens of photographic prints on display, none of which look like the work of a 17-year-old. Alternately dark and sweet, Higgins’ stunning collection – her first gallery show – is exceedingly professional, with each print priced at hundreds of dollars less than what many patrons would probably pay for them (the average cost of a print is $40).

Higgins displays the common artistic-teenager penchant for goth themes and angsty moods, but channels them into a very personal point of view. Her knack for both composition and unity is uncommonly strong, and her subject matter – a mix of herself, her friends and her seven young siblings – while cohesive, runs the tonal gamut from greeting card-ready to downright disturbing.

“It was a new experience for her to put her soul on display,” Wederich says of Higgins, whom she found on deviantART.com, a vast online community of known and unknown artists from across the world. According to Wederich, Higgins, who came to the March 12 reception with her parents, friends and all seven siblings in tow, has already amassed a considerable online following.

DeviantART is also where Wederich discovered Michael William Sullivan, a 25-year-old New Jersey Transit train conductor who moonlights as a photographer, snapping gorgeous stills of the platforms, buildings, roads and industrial landmarks he encounters while on the job (which, Wederich says, often involves the night shift). Sullivan isn’t the other artist who stands out most brilliantly, but his use of line, light and shape makes for some very handsome prints.

Sculptor Peter Frantz is not the other standout either, but his hard, dragon-like cast bronze creations contribute much to the show, enlivening it if only by bringing it off the wall. As Wederich so eloquently puts it, Frantz’s pieces (which appear threatening until given further examination) “are sort of about capturing a very specific point in time – those moments we don’t really have the words to describe in the English language.”

Wederich said Frantz was the one artist she didn’t exactly choose herself – the sculptor was already scheduled to display his work before Wederich landed her gig at Straube (“I inherited him,” Wederich says). But she also fought for him, and after multiple trips to foreign countries resulted in multiple cancellations, Frantz finally made his Straube debut.

But the artist in Higgins’ wow-inducing company isn’t a member of an online community, nor is he a globe-trotting, in-demand pro. In fact, by the standards of some, perhaps even by his own, he isn’t really an artist at all. Jon Sarkin, a 57-year-old former chiropractor who was born in Hillside, N.J. and now lives in Massachusetts, was hardly the artistic type before a brain hemorrhage and massive stroke nearly claimed his life. But when he awoke, his mind fractured, hearing impaired, and perception of the world forever altered, he found himself struck with the unyielding need to express himself visually, filling canvases and other surfaces with the jumbled words, images, shapes and faces swimming around in his head.

“It’s like trying to connect the dots in someone else’s mind,” Wederich says of looking at Sarkin’s work – and indeed it is.

Sarkin’s “paintings,” which apparently pour out of him at a rapid rate and are the only things keeping him grounded and keeping him going, are spellbinding mysteries of text, shapes and collage, with many items and words – such as the names of famous artists and musicians – recurring in numerous pieces. One could spend all day just gazing at them, trying to find the method behind the madness, if there even is any at all.

Married with three children and soon to be the subject of a movie in development with Tom Cruise’s production company, Sarkin didn’t appear at the opening night reception, even though Wederich claims it was his first gallery opening. It surely won’t be his last.

Wederich notes that the next art show at the Straube Center will be in May, and will be comprised entirely of college student work. Wederich says she’d like to try to include work in new media like CG animation and perhaps even digital video, and she’s working an acquiring a digital projector.

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