Windows of wonder: New Risen’s vision of art beyond boundaries

Left to right: David Noonan, Miller Hughes, and Michael St. John in front of Judith Linhare’s paintings at New Risen windows in North Canaan.

Natalia Zukerman

Windows of wonder: New Risen’s vision of art beyond boundaries

New Risen is a roving exhibition based on the belief that art should not be confined to museums and galleries. The two curators of the program, David Noonan and Millree Hughes, are committed to creating an inclusive, living, breathing experience that will evolve and grow but always remain true to the idea that beauty can be found in the most unexpected places.

There will be pop-up shows in various spaces across Litchfield County but to begin, there is a permanent window display at the intersection of Railroad and Main Street in North Canaan. Noonan explained, “I was driving my kids to school, and I drove by this window, and I saw it empty. I always kind of wanted to do a public art thing just because I thought it was cool.” With these windows, he explained, “You can go, and you don’t have to, like, encounter anyone. You can go see it whenever you want. You could see this in the middle of the night if you wanted to. In fact, it looks incredible in the middle of the night.” Noonan got in touch with the building owner who was on board with the idea. Hughes and Noonan then opened the first of their rotating exhibitions with three paintings by renowned American painter Judith Linhares. Born in 1940, Linhares is celebrated for her vibrant, expressive figurative and narrative paintings. Linhares gained recognition in the Bay Area culture of the 1960s and 1970s and has been based in New York City since 1980. Her work, influenced by Expressionism, Bay Area Figuration, Mexican modern art, and second-wave feminism, balances visionary personal imagery, expressive intensity, and pictorial rigor. Her paintings will be on display until mid-July at which point the windows will change over to show three new works by artist Michael St. John whose layered collages will transform the space once again.

“His work has almost got a punky quality,” said Hughes of St. John’s work. “It has a very bold look to it. But just beneath the surface, there’s a critique of minimalism against figuration, gestural painting against stiff painting, commercialism against real art.”

Gathering source materials by casting an inclusive and penetrating gaze on the world through which he moves, St. John layers newspaper clippings, found images, fragmented language, and everyday objects into captivating, collaged portraits of the world at present. His work, informed by Rauschenberg, Warhol, Ashcan School artists, and 19th-century American trompe l’oeil painting, reflects on notions of violence, tragedy, narcissism, racism, and indifference, drawing stimulating connections that kindle new and compassionate perspectives on contemporary culture.

“I usually make paintings about painting,” said St. John. “They’re informed by art history, the language of painting, what makes a painting, what is a painting.”

Hughes interjected, “Michael is a really influential painter. He’s influenced a whole generation,” to which Noonan excitedly added, “He’s big. We’re lucky to have him.”

Hughes and Noonan co-curated two shows in Falls Village at 105 Main Street this past winter and both were successful. But, Noonan said, “The one thing we ran into when we did this space down in Falls Village was that one of us had to be there all the time. So, if someone wanted to see the show, they had to make an appointment, we had to go open the door. You’re kind of like a sitting duck in a gallery which is fun because you get to meet people, but I started to wonder if there’s a way we can do something where people can just go whenever they want. That’s how I had the idea to do the windows.”

With insurance on the space and the artworks, New Risen operates with the utmost professionalism. “We do it very legit,” Noonan assured. By removing the barrier between artist and audience, however, boundaries are dissolved leaving room for an element of the unknown.

“We just show the work we really care about. That’s the bottom line,” said Hughes. Noonan added, “The only thing every artist has in common is that they’re incredibly brave because when you make something, you’re opening yourself up to a scrutiny that nothing else will open you up to.”

Artists are lined up for the fall with the space turning over every six weeks. While Noonan and Hughes have their eye on other spaces to potentially launch New Risen shows, there’s an excitement they share about the windows. The driving force seems to be that they are not just curating exhibitions; they’re curating experiences, reminders that sometimes, all it takes to find beauty is a simple turn of the head, a pause, and a window into another world.

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