"You have to learn how to die if you want to be alive.”
Chip Fasciana really likes that line from “War on War” by the band Wilco, and yes he’s been thinking about death.
But as an artist, Fasciana has never been more alive.
‘Life & Death’
WHAT: Solo exhibit by Chip Fasciana
WHERE: Albany Center Gallery, 39 Columbia St., Albany
WHEN: Through Friday, April 6. Gallery is open noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. On Friday, April 6, the gallery will be open until 9 p.m. for 1st Friday.
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: www.albanycentergallery.org, www.fasciana.com
In the past six years, his artwork, created mostly with recycled materials, has appeared in 40 group and solo shows. While his home and studio are in Albany, he shows regularly in New York City.
In 2010, a Fasciana painting won the Masterpiece Award, the highest prize, in the “Tomorrow’s Masters Today” exhibit at Albany Institute of History & Art. He’s also the founder of Albany’s Underground Artists, a group that boosts artists and the city by staging one-night “guerrilla” shows in vacant storefronts.
And now, for two more weeks, you can see “Life & Death,” Fasciana’s solo exhibit at Albany Center Gallery.
“I made 26 out of the 30 pieces in the show in the last two months. It’s been my most productive time ever as an artist,” he says during a recent gallery tour.
“Life & Death” is an ambitious gathering of abstract mixed media on reclaimed wooden doors and sculpture, photography and video.
While the exhibit is dense with colors, textures and surprising materials — bread, animal bones and toothpaste — this isn’t exactly trash-turned-art, as the atmosphere is refined and museumlike.
You can’t actually see bread or toothpaste, and the doors are so transformed that there are only the gaping holes where the doorknobs once passed to remind one of what they once were.
In “Floating Aimlessly,” a mix of bread and paint frosts a door that rests flat on a low pedestal, like a coffin at a wake. Thick and swirled, the blue-and-tan surface could represent planet Earth. In the center, an animal jaw is imbedded, and its teeth seem to laugh and mock us.
“Bones for death, bread for life,” says Fasciana.
In “Untitled Triptych,” the largest work, three doors are painted with organic forms, some of which look like sperm, and, as the label explains, Fasciana’s urine is mixed into the surface.
If the doors themselves are symbols, perhaps as passages to the next life, there are many of them in different positions. Some of the surfaces are shiny and lacquered, while others are cracked and scored, pocked and pitted.
A door that hangs vertically on a wall is yellow and painted with shapes that look like blood cells and blood vessels. “It’s the content of life,” Fasciana says. “I love biology, but I don’t get the technical side.”
In many of these “door paintings,” an object appears in the center, as if it were lost in time or traveling through a time tunnel. A plastic fashion doll, a toy sword and a plastic monkey are just a few of these objects.
In “Journey,” made with toothpaste, paint and ink, two men who look to be from ancient India travel by elephant in the center of the image, as if there were no solid ground.
Among the sculptures, there are two bird-like creations, totems made with insulation foam, feathers and tree limbs.
In “Guardian,” the “wings” span 7 feet, and the tree limbs at the core are glossy. Topping it off are two plastic reindeer heads, which flips the bird, if you will, into a comical, mutant beast.
When the exhibit opened on Albany’s 1st Friday on March 2, another sculpture, a carousel of animal bones and plastic reindeer heads, was on exhibit outdoors and visible through a gallery window. Unfortunately, it was removed because it was on private property and blocked a fire exit.
“I like to work with silly vintage toys,” says Fasciana. “I’m at thrift stores every day.”
And as he strides around the gallery, snapping photos with his phone, the tall artist, clad in a newsboy cap, eyeglasses and sweater vest, has his own vintage vibe.
“Did you see that?” he asks, pointing to a tiny insect perched on a sculpture made with part of a wooden barrel, feathers and animal horns.
“Life & Death” is a big title for a show, but it works as a mind-opener from the very beginning.
Before you even enter the door, you are lured in by moody guitar music. That’s Fasciana on the acoustic guitar and other instruments, including drums, keyboard and harmonica.
On a big whiteboard, his artist statement is scribbled like graffiti in bold black marker.
He is concerned about a greedy, wasteful society in which individuals blindly follow systems that control them.
“The average person has enough stuff in their garage and attic to provide a decent life for other struggling people,” he writes. We are “stuffed like foie gras.”
Fasciana, who is 43, says his work is autobiographical, and that’s one of the reasons he likes making abstract art.
“It’s the only thing in the world that’s entirely mine,” he says.
He grew up in the western New York city of Jamestown, studied business and had a successful career in the corporate world.
After the death of a close friend, he decided to become an artist. He picked up his bachelor’s degree in fine art at the University at Albany in 2003, when he was 35, and two years later appeared in his first Albany exhibit as leader of the Underground Artists.
In “Life & Death,” the dead and discarded are resurrected and miraculously ascend to the realms of art. Apparently, it’s all about Fasciana getting a very personal handle on death.
“You’ve got to take a stand in your head,” he says.
Of course, what you get out of this exhibit depends on what’s in your own head.
If you bring your head and your bones to the Albany Center Gallery, you’ll find out.