• Coté and Mains: Loops and Topiaries

    Posted: Wednesday, February 4, 2015 8:01 pm | Updated: 5:24 pm, Sun Feb 8, 2015. Ithaca Times

    The composer and multi-instrumentalist Billy Coté is best known for his jagged guitar, first with Madder Rose — an early ‘90s rock act based in New York City — and more recently in collaborations with local musicians, where he has provided transfixing textures and squalls of noise. But those who haven’t spent much time in clubs probably haven’t heard Coté, which is a minor tragedy. Friday, Feb. 6, another audience will have a chance to be exposed to his work, in a collaboration with the visual artist Craig Mains that the Community School of Music and Art will mount for First Friday’s Gallery Night. The opening runs from 5 to 8 p.m.

    The show, “Time | Manner | Place,” also finds a visual artist venturing beyond the work for which local audiences likely associate. Craig Mains, the director of the Ink Shop, and Coté’s collaborator, is himself most likely familiar to gallery-going audiences as a printmaker, though he has a long history with photography. “I have a degree in photography [from the Cleveland Institute of Art], and as far as exhibits go I show primarily in printmaking [centered on] disasters or mishaps, but I have always tried to keep my camera with me, and I have a backlog of digital images.” 

    Coté and Mains met at Olin Library at Cornell, where they both work. “We came up in a particular type of art scene — he in Cleveland, and me in New York City — where there are a lot of collaborations among disciplines in a non-academic way,” Coté said last week during a wide-ranging conversation about Mains. 

     “The music I have made is generally very dark. But when I look at Craig’s work, it has a sense of humor, and playfulness. That forces me not go to my safe place, and stay away from minor chords, and create music that was curious about its subject but not overly happy.” The result is an evolving ambient piece that loops vocals, synthesizers, and other sounds that will broadcast during the opening. 

    Coté continued, “I think our approach to art is similar. If I hear someone say something interesting it will wind up in my work. That is how I go through my day scavenging or collecting these things.” 

    The images in “Time | Manner | Place” center on lovely juxtapositions, and are titled in ways that are both clever but magnanimous. Three conical topiaries collude with an actual orange cone in “For Everything a Place;” construction objects are tethered together, animals join in the observation. Both Mains’ pet and Preston Buchtel, the curator of the Cleveland show, make cameos. In “Shipwreck,” Preston appears facing away from the viewer, a sweat-shirted explorer examining driftwood that has been washed ashore, while a female figure is perched upon a flat rock sitting on sand, as if a castaway on a desert island. 

    Coté has a history of scoring film soundtracks, but hopes to continue collaborating with other artists this year. “I am 50, and though I still like playing out in bars, I have done that for so long, it is hard to carry around gear,” he joked, adding that he expected to release new Madder Rose material, as well as other work.

  • The Finger Lakes is Ripe with Landscape Painters

    Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2014 10:52 am | Updated: 6:44 am, Sat Sep 13, 2014.

    Landscape painting is an established and familiar genre just about everywhere. It is particularly strong here in Ithaca—with the city’s undeniably scenic and pastoral settings and perhaps with its local-first and environmental ethos. And while the genre can lend itself to cliché, at its best, it can be a taking off point for a range of investigation that seems unlikely to exhaust itself any time soon. 

    Here are six of my favorite landscape artists from Ithaca and a bit beyond. Two have current or upcoming solo shows. Others can be seen at the State of the Art Gallery—Ithaca’s major cooperative for fine artists—or on the upcoming Greater Ithaca Art Trail. 

    Using his minivan as a mobile studio, Carlton Manzano ( paints regional scenes with a rough energy that recalls the Ashcan School realists of a century ago—only he substitutes natural and rural environments for their New York City ones. His sense of touch and texture is delightful and his attention to the changing of the seasons and to the less-than-sightly aspects of rural and small town communities is distinctive. 

    A similar combination of quotidian scene-setting and painterly freeplay characterizes the work of Ithaca turned Brooklyn artist Neil Berger ( Due to his long association with the Ink Shop—Ithaca’s cooperative printmaking studio and print gallery—Berger is best known locally for his black and white monotypes. He is also a highly capable and inventive oil painter. His style in both ink and paint combines weighty evocation of concrete locations with a varied and virtuosic flurry of painterly marks. He is known for his landscapes, which explore a wide range of natural and urban settings. He is also an able portraitist and is known to incorporate human figures into his landscapes—something of a rarity in local art. 

    Berger is having a show in October at the Frame Shop downtown with a “First Friday” opening on Oct. 3. 

    Done with painstakingly layered oil paint on both canvas and paper, Suzanne Onodera’s ( rich work is poised between the palpable and the ethereal. Although often described as abstract, they owe more to the romantic and tonalist landscape artists of the 19th century than to just about anybody from the 20th. Her work distills the genre to its fundamentals: hazily lit atmosphere; suggestions of clouds, smoke, and fire; implied horizons; earth, foliage, and water. 

    Her solo show “The Wild and the Deep” is up this month (through Oct. 4) at the Corners Gallery in Cayuga Heights. There will be a reception on Sept. 12 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

    Of her show the Californian turned Ithacan artist says in a statement:  “Recently I relocated to the Northeast where the lush and changing land continues to influence my practice in ways I am still unsure. And although I am inspired by land, place and nature, all of my imagery is invented. It is detached from any historical or specific link to time or place. Ultimately, this work is about transcendental beauty and connectivity between humans and nature, and to the self and the sublime.” 

    Janet Byer Sherman (, who lives and works in Spencer, is a member at the State of the Art Gallery and shows her paintings and drawings regularly in the venerable cooperative’s back room gallery. Her recent landscapes have taken off in a decidedly abstract direction – a pared down world of bands and patches of moody, evocative color. 

    Diane Newton’s ( work can also be seen at the SOAG. Although she has been working lately in a more expressionistic vein, Newton is best known for her tightly observed, realistic pastels. (The status of the medium in rather ambiguous—Newton’s works on paper can be considered drawings or paintings.) In her most distinctive work, the Boston and Ithaca based artist depicts scenes that eschew pastoralism: we see highways and parking lots, seedy and neglected corner of the city, parks and nature barren in wintertime. Newton’s use of perspective and composition is distinctive as well, with a complex use of the bird’s-eye-view and the panorama. 

    Craig Mains ( is one of Ithaca art’s honest eccentrics, a genuinely idiosyncratic stylist working in color monotype—a one-of-a-kind printmaking medium—with a combination of cartoonishly profiled shapes and painterly aplomb. Uniquely among the artists here, his focus is on the manmade world of buildings, structures, machines, and vehicles. Nature appears as a kind of stage set for the violent dramas that he likes to play out: crashes, fires, explosions, floods—all depicted with great wit and intelligence. §

  • Art of Disaster | Interview

    Posted in Ithaca Times:

    Stencils, watercolors, paper: In Craig Mains' hands, these are the tools of disaster - radio towers snapped in two, sinking ships, houses floating in dark water. "It is the part of disaster which is not about tragedy, that puts objects in unexpected places or in flux," he says of Calamity: Vehicles, Dwellings & Structures, his solo exhibit of monotypes at the Ink Shop Printmaking Center, on display through Oct. 29. Mains earned a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art and has studied printmaking at Cornell University. He is on the board of directors at the Ink Shop and also works at Cornell's main research library.

    * * * *

    ITHACA TIMES (IT):  A character in Ithaca writer Alison Lurie's latest novel says, in the context of 9/11, "It's especially dangerous to have an aesthetic take on any disaster" (lest you appear callous). Your show comes in the wake of two major hurricanes. Have those calamities given you any new insights - or reservations - about your work?

    CRAIG MAINS (CM): I've had a lot more questions lately about the connections in my prints with real disasters and have had some pause. I think sensitivity around human suffering is important. I tucked away some images of crashing jets, which I had made just a few weeks before 9/11, because of their proximity to the event. I don't consider this current show callous, however, because these images are not of one disaster, but are depictions of calamitous events in general. The subjects are more symbols than specific representations, and the focus is on the destruction of objects we build, not the human tragedy associated with disaster.

    IT: Yes, your prints don't feel tragic, though some are disquieting. For one thing, human figures and other life forms don't make an appearance. Can you explain your fascination with man-made structures?

    CM: I like the way they can be an extension of human personality and easy to anthropomorphize. I was really impressed by these giant structures designed to scoop iron ore from ships along the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland, where I grew up - colossal rusty machines, moving fluidly, seemingly with minds of their own. Some of the early prints in this series, like the Blast Furnaces, are inspired by the steel industry in Cleveland. I went down to the "Flats" at night for picnics, would bring a bottle of wine and watch trains pulling giant, glowing ingots. The "Flats" were lower than Cleveland, and driving down to the steel mills seemed like entering purgatory. The furnaces were mythic. There was Blast Furnace #1, where super-sized trucks loaded scrap steel into a drawer as big as a city block. The drawer would slide shut, and then flames would shoot out the main stack. We would drive through a maze of hissing pipes to see the different furnaces; each had different colored flames.

    IT: In "Bird Nest," flames erupt from a transmission (steel latticed) tower. What happened? 

    CM: I was researching the tower imagery for the ensnared aircraft pieces and discovered that there can be problems with raptors building their nests among power lines. Fires can be set when birds, mostly golden eagles, spread their wings or when the large sticks they use to build their nests are wet and bridge the gap between lines.

    IT: Does your research into what structures look like often lead to this kind of information?

    CM: When creating the large triptychs, "Cessna, Cloud and Mountain Range (2 and 3)," I wanted to show the portent of disaster with a small aircraft. I thought I'd use a Cessna because I had some notion that they were vulnerable. Google searches often bring up unexpectedly appropriate results. I did an image search just to see what one looked like from the rear, a view that was not really easy to find. However, there were plenty of photos of Cessnas underwater, littered across fields and in crumpled heaps.

    IT: In "Fallen Water Tower," how did a New York City-style rooftop water tower end up in a desert?

    CM: If these types of towers don't exist in the West, well I'll admit that it is simply what came to mind when I was making the print. The top of it can be shown flying off, with the water soaking into the earth. I placed the event in the desert because it is easy to imagine that this would be the only tower for miles, which amplifies the misfortune.

    IT: A few of the works seem quite funny. In "Hedgerow & Helicopter," for example, the hedgerow - those stiff, sculptural bushes - seems to have fared better than the helicopter. And then there are those ice cream trucks on fire. Other scenes are a bit mysterious. In "House on Fire," a tree, felled by a saw, looms in the foreground. What's going on there?

    CM: I was curious about the apparent cause and effect implied by the placement of the two elements in the picture. The tree has been cut down, an act of will by man on nature, and now the house is on fire, so then that would seem to be an act of retribution on man by nature, the wrath of God. Trees are cut down and houses catch fire all the time, but their placement in the picture implies connection; and, when it is art, meaning is assumed over coincidence.

  • Out of the Wreckage: Exploring Calamity with Artist Craig Mains

    Craig Mains Coaster Apocalypse

    Ithaca Times
    Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 4:47 pm, Tue Apr 1, 2014.

    By Arthur Whitman | 0 comments

    Oddball storytelling and dramatic visual style find a distinctive fusion in the work of local printmaker Craig Mains. Mains makes one-of-a-kind prints, manipulating stencils and water-soluble inks on acetate to create scenarios that find both humor and pathos in disasters both natural and man-made. Occupying eerily un-peopled settings, structures—houses, industrial infrastructure, vehicles, the odd tree or shrub—are subject to the ravages of fire, explosion, collision, drowning, and on and on.

    His work balances the abstract and the narrative, the exuberant and the droll, the controlled and the chaotic. The tight forms of his stenciled “icons” (the artist’s own term) and backgrounds contain his brushiness evoking a metamorphosing world of tension and release.

    His color is rich but restricted with a few bold ink colors typically appearing within each piece in both saturated and faded qualities.

    The artist is currently showing a selection of monoprints and monotypes at the Bandwagon Brew Pub. (The show runs through the end of April.) His subject matter is characteristically diverse.

    Mains participated in last year’s “No Land Escapes,” an anti-fracking exhibit curated by print artist Barbara McPhail and put on by the Ink Shop, where he is a founding member. Mains was gripped by the theme, which resonates with his characteristic fascination with mishap. Speculative fracking disasters account for the subject of several of the prints here.

    Among the most imaginative of these is a series of Brine Pond Spills, which are meant to depict the potential flooding of wastewater containment pools. Characteristically, he finds a weird poetry in the plant-like branching forms of these noxious flows.

    Another recent series here takes inspiration from the true-life story of a Jersey Shore roller coaster carried out to sea by Hurricane Sandy. “The image was very striking,” he said. “An amusement park is a place where they have controlled danger. It’s supposed to be dangerous, and it’s supposed to be safe.” This sort of slippage between the imaginary in the real is signature Mains.

    He is showing several variations on the theme: layered and hectic transpositions of small and large, solid and faded tracks. The dizzying, disconnected curves and the patchwork of color and brushwork—his signature cartoon flames as accents—recall the “hand painted Pop” of Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘60s screenprints.

    But Mains’ work is perhaps more compelling at its most austere. Among the best prints here are two pieces from his Personal Levee series in which green (grassy?) circular barriers enclose houses, protecting them against floodwaters—or often failing to.

    Similarly, Filter, which Mains has shown before, is a particularly compelling older piece. Set in a rich array of browns—tinged yellow, orange, reddish—cartoonish houses tumble into a broad river as if they were dice. Echoing the dynamic compositions of Japanese ukiyo-e prints, an arched bridge slices diagonally across the water.

    Mains is a printmaker associate at the Ink Shop (Ithaca’s independent printmaking studio collective), where he designs their publications and exhibits. The precision necessary for design work feeds into his fine art without overwhelming it. His is a distinctive, perhaps under-appreciated, voice in local visual art.

    He has been working in this vein since the late '90s. According to him, the studio’s original location, “an old airplane factory,” resonated with the industrial settings of his hometown. “Being there reminded me of being back in Cleveland,” he recalled.


    Prior to moving to Ithaca, Mains earned a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Arts. He traces the roots of his current approach back to his post-graduate studies in printmaking at Cornell in the '90s, where his professor Elisabeth Meyer introduced him to the technique of making unique prints using wet media acetate. As he describes it, he took to the medium eagerly, enjoying its spontaneity and the potential for repetition to be found in the use of stencils.