WEST ORANGE, NJ — Four artists have works hanging on the walls of the West Orange Arts Center through May 21 in a pop-up exhibit. The art includes tapestries, clay masks, collages and paintings created by artists Leslie Jacobsen, Carol T. Jenkins, Monica Sztybel and Rachel Pruzan, who were at WOAC May 7 for an artists reception and the opening of the exhibition.
Sztybel’s needlepoint pieces depict celebrities such as George Harrison and the cast of “Starsky & Hutch” TV show. Designs are based on photos; Sztybel adds backgrounds and sometimes changes colors. She learned to make tapestry as a teenager, when the Livingston Public Library offered a weekend course.
“I got into it and it exploded from there,” Sztybel said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the gallery on May 7. “I’ve done pets, cars, and people have asked me to do pictures of their husbands.”
Sztybel used to work in television production, so she likes to focus her work on pop culture and characters that many people recognize. Eventually, she wants to create tapestries of the other three members of The Beatles, in addition to the band members Queen and some of her own travel photos.
“I’m starting to branch out and sketch my own designs,” Sztybel said. “Sometimes when I’m working from a photo, there’s no background, so I add wallpaper. The colors match up to a point, then I change them because they might be black and white.
Pruzan’s work in the gallery is done with oil paint and alcohol ink, a material not typically used to make art – alcohol is most often used as a cleanser for brushes. Pruzan likes to use it because of the distorting effect it has on the paint.
“You dream something in your mind, but your mind twists it,” she said in an interview with the Chronicle at the gallery. “Everything we perceive is distorted by our own lenses. The paint is deformed by the alcohol. People see different things in it, and I like the changing perspectives.
Pruzan doesn’t plan her pieces when she starts them, just letting the paint fall where she wants. With the materials she uses, she always has the ability to go back and change something, even if a piece is finished and hanging on a gallery wall.
“Acrylic paint and alcohol ink stay in motion,” Pruzan said. “I like to take something that isn’t usually used and take the beauty out of the art. I see things I want to change now, and I could.
Jacobsen’s work focuses on faces. She has been making stoneware clay masks since 2006, after taking a trip to Santa Fe, NM, and seeing Native American art in the area.
“There was something about the faces that drew me to them,” Jacobsen said in an interview with the Chronicle at the gallery. “I often feel like they have personalities.”
The masks are made of clay and painted in different colors, and Jacobsen adds other elements, such as hair, glasses and accessories. She wishes viewers could see the emotion in the faces, especially after the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, when masks covered the faces of real people.
“I know they’re not for everyone, but I love them,” Jacobsen said. “I find them very fun and playful. When people see them, they have an emotional reaction. The faces reveal layers of emotions and expressions. Emote faces. Everyone has some kind of feeling, and it can be recognized in a face.
A graphic designer by trade, Jenkins said in an interview with the Chronicle at the gallery that she started making collages about 10 years ago. She uses all the recyclable materials she saves; photos are taken from magazines and stickers, paper and other dollar store materials. One of his pieces at WOAC is centered on movement; there are people dancing, embellished with colored paper and magazine cutouts.
“I see something that I like and then build around it,” Jenkins said of how she started a collage. “There is a flow.”
Reusing materials is something Jenkins has done his whole life. She said her mother would save and recycle everything from fish bones to calendar photos, which she would then turn into placemats.
“She was the only person in the neighborhood who never had trash because she kept everything,” Jenkins said. “So I’m definitely getting it from my mom.”
The WOAC pop-up exhibition will be open to the public on May 14 and 21 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Photos courtesy of Mike Brick and Patricia Mitrano