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Catskill Art Society will present a two-person exhibition from husband- and-wife duo Mary Carlson and Jim Torok as the fourth annual invitational show at CAS Art Center at 48 Main St, Livingston Manor, NY on Saturday, July 6. The invitational show is a project in which CAS devotes greater time and resources to the production of an exhibition and its accompanying catalogue. Carlson will exhibit small ceramic figures drawing from Old Master paintings and prints. Torok’s presentation will merge two elements of his practice: his detailed small-scale portraiture and daily quick-form cartoon drawings and paintings. This will be the first time the two have exhibited together. The exhibition will be on view Saturday, July 6 – Saturday, August 31, 2019.

Carlson’s ceramics render Adam and Eve after interpretations by Lucas Cranach the Elder and Masolino da Panicale, demons are borrowed from Giotto di Bondone’s fresco’s for the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, and Catherine of Alexandria is enlivened by the Třeboň Altarpiece. Her figures representing humans, which are small and delicate (none is over five inches high), invite such adjectives as humble and modest, virtues associated with the female saints that are among her subjects. She subverts religious iconography with arresting humor and grace, arming the ceramic Catherine with a plastic sword more befitting a tropical drink, and robing a porcelain omniscient deity, coyishly titled God, Maybe, in blush pink. Alternately, Carlson works from an illuminated medieval manuscript to create a dainty little porcelain woman vomiting up a bile-green, sharp-eared serpent; both dark and tender is a trio of demons subtitled “after Giotto,” which refers to the trecento painter’s fresco cycle in the Scrovegni Chapel. The biblical scenes and figures are joined by life-size birds and lustrous flowers that at times dwarf their contemporaries.

Torok’s high-low presentation is equally reverent and self-deprecating. His oil-on-wood panel portraits of friends and acquaintances from Brooklyn to Walton are executed with the precision and skill of Renaissance masters. Ranging from small to tiny, the frontal, head-and-shoulders realistic renderings are captured from a series of photographs, and at times take the artist two to three years to complete. His portraits have an intimacy and veneration that suggest his subjects sat for the entire duration of production, feeling both familiar and iconographic. While the cartoons are not offered the esteem that is bestowed upon the portraits, they are considered by the artist—always the first to the punch line—to be humble “self-portraits” with bulbous noses and overstated and weary eyes. His graphic touch is straightforward and deliberately naive, and his verbal timing is excellent.

To many, the artists are an unlikely paring, though they share more than their marriage and proclivity to work with a small scale. Both hold a reverence and reproof for the cannons of art history, breaking down and building up imagery and the artists who came before them. They also share an interest in conversations between painting and sculpture, and, at least latently, a dark sense of humor. Carlson and Torok split their time between New York City and the Catskills. In both locations domestic and studio spaces spill into each other, as does their work. The duo’s first collaboration was accidental, but they have since made five collaborations to occupy the Hallway Gallery between their respective solo presentations. The space bridges the dichotomy between their individual practices, and perhaps offers a lens to the intimacies of their relationship – one of humor, kindness, and self-deprecation.

Mary Carlson and Jim Torok is accompanied by a catalogue comprised with a critical essay on the artists’ work by artist historian and critic Nancy Princenthal. The publication is produced by the Catskill Art Society and available at the CAS Arts Center, Livingston Manor. Major underwriting support is provided by Judy Cox and Ben Weston, Jane DeBevoise and Candace Worth.

Nancy Princenthal is a Brooklyn and Cochecton-based writer whose book Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art (Thames and Hudson, 2015) received the 2016 PEN America award for biography. A former Senior Editor of Art in America, she has also contributed to Artforum, Parkett, The Village Voice, and The New York Times. Princenthal is the author of Hannah Wilke (Prestel, 2010), and a co-author of two recent books on women artists. She has taught at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College; Princeton University; and Yale University, and is currently on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts.

Saturday, July 6, 2019 - Artists Talk and Opening Reception
CAS will host an Artists Talk with Nancy Princenthal at 4pm, followed immediately by a free Opening Reception from 5-6pm. Refreshments will be served and admission is free and open to the public.

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Mary Carlson has been making art for nearly fifty years. She uses a wide range of materials and subject matter, creating everything from hand-sewn American flags to a giant, crocheted, pink octopus to “altered” furniture. Her current medium of choice is hand-built porcelain, featuring glazes formulated and fired in her studio based in Walton, New York. Her porcelain sculptures have been described by the New York Times as “wonderfully soulful” and “as spiritually infectious as they are sensuously appealing.” Carlson is the recipient of Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and Tiffany awards, and her work was first shown in New York at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1985. She has also shown in the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna, Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, Venice Biennale, and numerous galleries around the country. Most recently she was awarded a fellowship by the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Italy, which will start in 2020.


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Jim Torok was born in South Bend, Indiana. He moved to New York in 1979 to study art at Brooklyn College, where received an MFA in 1981. Several years later, Torok began creating cartoons as a regular feature for Paper magazine, while at the same time doing realistic paintings of interiors and objects. He also produced animations for MTV. In the mid-1990s he started making miniature portraits and in 1997 had his first solo show at Bill Maynes Gallery in New York. He has been making and exhibiting both cartoons and portraits ever since. Torok’s work has been exhibited widely in the United States and Europe, including a one-person show at the Denver Art Museum and a three-person show at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. His work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Recently, several of his pieces were added to the collection of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which is scheduled to open in Los Angeles in 2021.