John Ahearn at the
Herbert f. Johnson Museum of Art
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
Let’s go see what there is on view in Ithaca, New York on a winter’s day. Up the hill, The Johnson Museum beckons at Cornell University. At the entrance to this I.M. Pei designed edifice I found a wall mounted portrait in painted plaster ( “Ernestine”) by the artist John Ahearn who was studying at Cornell when I was an MFA candidate there in the early 1970’s. John has made the painted plaster cast his medium, though when I first met him he was a traditional painting student. It is the artist’s job to take common materials like plaster and transform them into something that captures your attention. I think John’s artwork is not too different than figurative sculpture from the past few hundred years, though his subjects are folks who volunteer to have themselves cast wherever John makes his studio, whether it is in the Bronx, or in Brazil.
Another figurative artist catches my attention and this time it is Storm Tharp, a more recent Cornell grad from 1992. His medium is mostly ink on paper, but also color and pattern play a role, as does a fierce characterization for each person portrayed. In his portion of the exhibit space a vitrine holds sketchbooks and artist’s keepsakes and memoranda – all of which helps to personalize the show.