At 5:20 PM, early by most standards for a Saturday night, Schuylerville’s Broad Street was already lined with cars. The village’s two major restaurants – Clark’s Steakhouse and Amigos Cantina – were standing room only, and The Laffer Gallery on 96 Broad was near capacity. For many in the area, downtown Schuylerville was the place to be on March 11.
The Laffer Gallery is a fine art gallery and custom frame shop that represents established and emerging contemporary artists in the region. Exhibitions, which rotate every four to six weeks, feature work by artists such as Harry Orlyk, Anne Diggory, John Van Alstine, and Jane Bloodgood-Abrams, just to name a few. On Saturday, March 11, The Laffer Gallery reopened after its winter hiatus by presenting Beyond Color, presenting work by artists Elisa Sheehan, Josh Smith, Gary Zack, and Zack Lobdell. The show is on view through April 16.
Here along the Hudson at the border of Washington and Saratoga Counties, many businesses have flashed and faded over the years, but The Laffer Gallery in Schuylerville has exhibited a unique staying power since it opened its doors in 2012. Erik Laffer, the owner and operator of the gallery, is a well-known and respected artist in his own right. Since 2012, he’s built a robust and loyal following mostly through word of mouth, relationship-building, and hosting fun opening receptions. He’s also established a reputation for his discerning eye. His efforts have paid off, as evidenced by the more than 200 community members who attended the latest opening. This is no small feat for the little gallery in a village of less than 1,400 residents.
In Beyond Color, Laffer showcases work from artists who use color to elicit an emotional response. “The works in this show are either bold or vibrant in color. But more important to the artists, the works are marked by rich textures and emotional context,” Laffer notes. “From ceramics to acrylic on board to layers of application on canvas, the surface of the medium is as meaningful to the artist’s’ expression as the work itself.” It is true that the four artists each bring something different to the theme and use different surfaces, but as presented by Laffer, their seemingly-disparate styles complement one another. Somehow, Smith’s “Red Line Bowls,” Sheehan’s “The Cure,” and Lobdell’s “Sequence,” which are all at the front of the gallery, talk to one another.
Laffer calls it a risky show. He doesn’t always know how his audience will respond to nonrepresentational art, but several of the works on display meld landscape elements with contemporary abstract expressionism. Sheehan’s work, and its use of botanicals, as well as Zack’s “Water Series,” Lobdell’s “The Traveler,” and Smith’s “Mountain Cylinders” all provide a bridge to the abstract for those who are more comfortable with traditional landscape. Of course, given the theme, at the same time, the use of color is central to the work. “In many cases,” Laffer says, “it’s not the color you’re seeing that’s important but the meaning behind it.”
All four artists are local. Ballston Spa resident Lobdell uses a highly evolved technique of instinctual marks and gestures, combined with the manipulation of chemical reactions, and the application and removal of multiple layers of paint, metals, and acids to express emotion and “evoke powerful, spiritual visions.” Three of his works – “Sequence,” “Chrysalis,” and “The Traveler,” which are all large mixed media works on canvas – are stunning.
Sheehan says her works are “a collection of my life’s movements.” Her process is a combination of “unrestrained play” and “intuitive yet planned mark making.” She uses color, shape, and texture to express emotion, but it’s the use of shapes influenced by botanical matter such as flowers, branches, leaves, that makes her work stand out.
Smith’s art is “influenced by his belief in the power of silence and the ability of functional pottery to break down the barriers to many forms of art.” His glazed porcelain work was the first thing that caught my eye when I entered the gallery (“Red Line Cup” and “Red Line Bowl”). His work is beautiful and finely-crafted. He is a Saratoga native.
Lastly, Zack was the owner of the Symmetry Gallery in Saratoga Springs for many years. A Greenfield Center resident, he is known for his glasswork, but his recent work with acrylics offers “another avenue for him to explore contrasts of light and dark, texture, pattern, and mood.” Mood is the right term, especially in his red “Series #1593.” His paintings are bold, and one can see the influence of his stained glass and blown glass work in their application of color and movement.
As far as the business, Laffer’s having a good time. “It’s rewarding to love what I do and be able to support artists. It’s a happy little circle – the artists are happy, the clients are happy, and the gallery is happy.” In the future, he aims to continue to build the business, and he hopes to get into more art consulting for area businesses who are looking to build a collection or display contemporary work by regional artists in their buildings and offices.
In June, The Laffer Gallery will celebrate its five-year anniversary. “I’m surprised at how quickly it all went by,” he jokes. “My approach has really evolved over time. I wanted to bring something fresh and new to the area. At the same time, I learned that this community in particular likes to support local art and artists. Over the last five years, I’ve been able to bring those two visions together.”
Photo by W.B. Belcher