Like many artists, Kurt Bownell has to balance the commercial with the personal.
The Victor resident is a commercial photographer with a Rochester studio and a client list that includes such corporations as Wegmans, Constellation Brands, Democrat and Chronicle, Unity Health and several universities. The clients commission Brownell for everything from beauty shots of growers, produce and culinary arts to corporate executives in their workplace environments.
His day job keeps him so busy that his personal photographic love – outdoor landscapes – often happens on the fly, such as when he snapped shots of the rolling hills of Cohocton on a pit stop as his family returned from a vacation.
Perhaps that’s why Brownell’s new exhibit at Keuka College, “Up Close and Far Away-Landscapes,” is such a treat for him. The exhibit runs through Jan. 4, with an artist reception Thursday, Nov. 29 from 4:30 – 6 p.m. at Lightner Gallery inside Lightner Library. The exhibit is open to the public; library hours vary and can be found online at: http://lightner.keuka.edu.
“This is what I like to do when I’m not being told what to photograph,” he said. “This is what I gravitate toward naturally. I can go without any agenda and shoot what I feel, what I like, what I find.”
Many of his images, which he refers to as “interpretive landscapes,” are “stitched” composites of 10-20 different shots, melded together to create one final, full panorama for the viewer.
The faces and forms of the people in his paintings look as though the individuals brushed into living color could step right off the canvas and into conversation.
They look, in a word, real. And that’s exactly how artist Lennie Muscarella of Victor wants it to be.
“If you were right next to it, it looks like a hodgepodge, but step back 10 feet and you’ve got a photograph,” he said, explaining that a number of contemporary painters in the same Realist style he aspires to are currently striving to master that technique.
Muscarella had lots of time to become intimately acquainted with the human face and figure. After studying biology at St. Bonaventure University, and a brief stint in the U.S. Navy, he entered dental school at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Though he had given up art school to pursue a “day job” that could support a family, Muscarella found himself rewarded, he said, because dental school turned out to be “a very sophisticated art school.”
“They taught you how to paint porcelain and you have to know your colors inside out to match anteriors [teeth], and they hone your sculpting skills down to a tenth of a millimeter and bless them, they give you the privilege—not the right, but the privilege—to dissect the human body twice,” he said. “As a figure painter, you can’t get any better than that.”
While he may be “Dr. Muscarella” by day, in his free time he is simply “lennie” the artist, and yes, he spells it lowercase, because painting such a long name with a brush involves more work. “It’s much easier, if [I] use the one name,” he said.
In Muscarella’s mind, dental school was also a saving grace because had he instead entered art school in 1977, he would have confronted what he considers “a horrible year, the post-modern movement, [which] we’ve suffered from the last 40 years. They threw away all the technique and all the skill level is gone.
“I’m so sick and tired of people signing toasters or toilets and calling it art. It’s the king and his clothes, and people have got to be told the king is naked,” he said. “America’s got a wonderful crop of world-class figure painters on the East Coast right now making a comeback—they’ve held the fort up quite well.”
Muscarella will also show some of his drawings and sculptures at the Keuka exhibit, which continues through April 13. While he enjoys both sculpting and oil painting, casting sculptures is more expensive, so he tends to lean toward toward painting, he said.
“Painting is like playing the violin and sculpture is like playing the drums — it’s more physical. There’s a hammer involved, welders, tables with clamps on them. It’s very satisfying in its own way. I like both. But [sculpture’s] a lot messier.”
Muscarella will meet the public Thursday, March 22 during an artist’s reception, 4:15 – 6 p.m. in Keuka College’s Lightner Gallery, where light refreshments will be served. Prior to the reception, Muscarella will give a demonstration of his oil painting technique, known as the old master’s method, to Keuka drawing and painting students taught by Melissa Newcomb, assistant professor of art. And while it would be impossible to finish a work that typically takes 60 to 90 hours in an hour-and-a-half, Muscarella plans on giving them a significant taste in the science of it.
To that end, he will dissect one of his portraits in progress, creating a four-part cross-section on linen canvas where one quarter of the portrait is simply his drawing, and the next is coated with a sepia-tone wash of diluted oil paints. The final two quarters are in stages he calls “underpainting” and “almost done.” During the demonstration, Muscarella will take each cross-section to the next stage of completion. The canvas-in-progress will be put on display during the reception.
“It’s the process of making art, the doing that’s important,” Muscarella said. “Once one [work] is done, it’s time to move on to the next, like a rainbow in the next field. You never quite get there, and you’re always chasing it.”