Sunday, November 26, 2006

An Explosion of Light

An Explosion of Light - New York Times

By MARCELLE S. FISCHLER Published: November 11, 2006
Seventy Mylar banners painted with whirls, squiggles, orbs and swimming figures wave gently from the 30-foot ceiling in the atrium of the Tilles Center on the campus of Long Island University in Brookville. Laurette Gnaegy Kovary painted some of them nearly 20 years ago. She painted the other 40-odd panels during the last two weeks of October. “All artists do that when you have a show coming up; you paint until the last second,” Ms. Kovary said. “I am one of those people who will keep painting until you take the paintbrush out of my hand.” Because space in her waterfront studio in Bayville is tight, Ms. Kovary, 48, worked horizontally when she painted the clear plastic panels, which are at least 4 feet wide and up to 16 feet long, and hang vertically. Her “Whirling in the Nebula” is the first major installation by a Long Island artist in “Art Under Glass,” a continuing series at the performing arts center. “It is a celebration of life in the universe,” Ms. Kovary said. “It is a big explosion, and all different components have to come together to make things work, like the universe.” Sunlight glistens through the banners during the day, casting quivering images on the atrium wall that look like atoms bouncing around in an impromptu laser show. The painted plastic twinkles in the evening light. The painting style, which in different panels pays homage to Van Gogh and Chagall, is typical of Ms. Kovary’s work, but the installation itself is site specific, she said. It will be in place through February.
Usually Ms. Kovary works on canvas and on walls; she has a faux finishing and mural business. She has also painted life-size fiberglass horses, doing five of them in 2003 for “Horses of a Different Color,” Nassau County’s first public art project. Robert Goida, vice president and associate director of the Artists Group, a two-year-old nonprofit group based in Hicksville and composed of musicians, artists and poets who want to bring art more directly into people’s everyday lives, approached Ms. Kovary to submit a proposal for a large-scale project for the Tilles Center atrium, where patrons gather before concerts and during intermissions. Some of the painted panels were originally used in 1989 in “Aqueous Spaces,” a display at the Broadway Windows gallery at New York University. Ms. Kovary’s interest in working on clear surfaces was sparked early in her career when she painted windows with a stained-glass effect for people who didn’t want to put up curtains. After another client commissioned her to paint a shower curtain with swimmers, Ms. Kovary looked to move to a larger format. She discovered that acrylic paint worked well on Mylar, which resembles huge sheets of Saran Wrap. Some of the opaque panels are painted on both sides. The original panels were the result of a backlash against a digital and video art show she had seen as a new fine arts graduate of the Pratt Institute at the Whitney Museum. “Art critics of the time were saying painting was dead,” Ms. Kovary recalled. She decided “to paint and paint and paint everything I could find to paint and keep doing it,” she said. Ms. Kovary later used 35 of the clear panels in 1992 in a tent-shaped installation, “Art in the Scale of Being,” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. “When you walked in, it gave you the feeling of being in an aquarium or a mirrored funhouse,” she said.When Ms. Kovary and her husband, Chris, an architect, moved to East Norwich from Queens in 1993, she took a hiatus from art to raise their children, Logan, now 16, and Noelle, 15. Her experience giving arts and crafts lessons as a Girl Scout leader led her to start a cottage business, the Art House Studio, where she gives private art classes. Over the years, many of the original panels Ms. Kovary painted for the N.Y.U. show were destroyed or lost with different installations. The 20-odd panels that remained intact became the basis of the Tilles Center exhibition. “The challenge was definitely integrating the older work with the new work and making it cohesive,” the artist said. A further challenge was installing the work at the Tilles. Ms. Kovary took a trip to a local tackle shop to master the knots required to attach the top of each panel to a swivel hook in the ceiling. Two staff members did the actual installation, but Ms. Kovary did have herself hoisted into the air afterward. “I was on a scissor lift removing fingerprints,” she said.

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