Getting an inside look: Holyoke exhibit culls varied work from artists’ sketchbooks and journals

PULP Gallery owner Dean Brown says the idea behind “Northeast Deconstructions” is to give viewers “a peak behind the curtain” when it comes to artists’ creative process.

PULP Gallery owner Dean Brown says the idea behind “Northeast Deconstructions” is to give viewers “a peak behind the curtain” when it comes to artists’ creative process.

These graphite drawings by Leverett artist Jesse Connor are part of “Northeast Deconstructed,” an exhibit featuring pages from artists’ sketchbooks and journals.

These graphite drawings by Leverett artist Jesse Connor are part of “Northeast Deconstructed,” an exhibit featuring pages from artists’ sketchbooks and journals. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Years ago, Amherst artist Lynn Peterfreund painted these views of the human heart in a journal to help deal with her emotions when her husband was undergoing open heart surgery. The watercolor and colored pen works are now part of “Northeast Deconstructed.”

Years ago, Amherst artist Lynn Peterfreund painted these views of the human heart in a journal to help deal with her emotions when her husband was undergoing open heart surgery. The watercolor and colored pen works are now part of “Northeast Deconstructed.” STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Pennsylvania artist Stacy Caldwell created these landscape miniatures for her journals, and they’re now part of “Northeast Deconstructed” at PULP Gallery in Holyoke. BELOW: PULP Gallery owner Dean Brown says the idea behind the exhibit is to give viewers “a peak behind the curtain” at artists’ creative process.

Pennsylvania artist Stacy Caldwell created these landscape miniatures for her journals, and they’re now part of “Northeast Deconstructed” at PULP Gallery in Holyoke. BELOW: PULP Gallery owner Dean Brown says the idea behind the exhibit is to give viewers “a peak behind the curtain” at artists’ creative process. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Painter Brian Lynch, who lives in New York’s Hudson River Valley, says drawing, such as these pencil and watercolor works from his sketchbooks, “forms the very essence of my artistic foundation.”

Painter Brian Lynch, who lives in New York’s Hudson River Valley, says drawing, such as these pencil and watercolor works from his sketchbooks, “forms the very essence of my artistic foundation.” STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Connecticut multi-disciplinary artist Julie Fraenkel fills her sketchbooks with detailed drawings that can stand on their own.

Connecticut multi-disciplinary artist Julie Fraenkel fills her sketchbooks with detailed drawings that can stand on their own. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Untitled graphite on paper drawing  by Jesse Connor, on display at PULP in Holyoke.

Untitled graphite on paper drawing  by Jesse Connor, on display at PULP in Holyoke. Image from PULP Gallery

PULP Gallery owner Dean Brown says the idea behind “Northeast Deconstructions” is to give viewers “a peak behind the curtain” when it comes to artists’ creative process.

PULP Gallery owner Dean Brown says the idea behind “Northeast Deconstructions” is to give viewers “a peak behind the curtain” when it comes to artists’ creative process. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

PULP Gallery owner Dean Brown received submissions from 300 artists for “Northeast Deconstructions.” The exhibit features work from 18 of them, arranged in large grids.

PULP Gallery owner Dean Brown received submissions from 300 artists for “Northeast Deconstructions.” The exhibit features work from 18 of them, arranged in large grids. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

PULP Gallery at 80 Race Street in Holyoke

PULP Gallery at 80 Race Street in Holyoke STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Colored pencil and watercolor on paper by Lynn Peterfreund

Colored pencil and watercolor on paper by Lynn Peterfreund Image from PULP Gallery

Vintage Schaefer student fountain pen and blue black ink on paper by Julie Fraenkel

Vintage Schaefer student fountain pen and blue black ink on paper by Julie Fraenkel Image from PULP Gallery

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 12-28-2023 7:50 PM

Where does art begin? With a general idea or image? Maybe something that’s sketched out quickly in a journal or on a piece of paper?

This month at PULP in Holyoke, the Race Street gallery is showcasing just that sort of “behind-the-scenes” look at what artists come up with in their initial stages of creativity.

“Northeast Deconstructed” features panels of work taken from the sketchbooks and journals of 18 artists from the Northeast, with the pages arranged in large, roughly equal-size panels on the gallery walls. It’s a display that offers the visual art equivalent of homemade recordings, or initial demos for songs.

From watercolor sketches of a human heart to small but detailed graphite landscapes, to drawings of what could pass for individual cogs from a Rube Goldberg machine, the exhibit includes some 300 of these “deconstructed” pages and images, composed of pen and ink and graphite drawings, watercolor and acrylic paintings, and more.

And though some of the work appears quickly made or abstract — artists putting a rough idea on paper — much can also stand on its own, such as the intricate, cartoon-like drawings of Julie Fraenkel, a Connecticut artist whose multi-disciplinary work includes puppets and sculpted figures that look very similar to her drawings.

“I was really interested in looking at the creative process, a sort of peek behind the curtain,” said PULP owner Dean Brown. “What fuels inspiration? Where do artists generate their ideas, and how do they first put that on paper?”

Brown said he put out an open call about six months ago on Instagram for people to submit entries, limiting it to artists from the Northeast — roughly, New England and a few other states such as New York and Pennsylvania.

Even with those limits, Brown received examples of sketchbook and journal art from 300 artists, and from that he selected work from 18. (Brown says he invited a few artists outright for the show based on their stature.)

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“I think the idea had a lot of appeal,” he said, though he noted he also received a few complaints from people who objected to a display of private art, or to the notion of taking out pages from a book and exhibiting them individually.

The “seed” for the exhibit actually dates back over four years, Brown notes, to when he was first getting his gallery up and running and met with a lot of regional artists to introduce himself.

When he visited the studio of Amherst multi-disciplinary artist Lynn Peterfreund, he looked at a few of her journals and found one with watercolor and colored-pencil images of the human heart, which dated from a time several years earlier when Peterfreund’s husband had undergone open-heart surgery.

“I asked Lynn if she’d be interested in showing some of that work, and she said, ‘No, no, I don’t want to put that out there!’” said Brown.

But, he noted, Peterfreund has made daily drawing part of her routine for years and has shared many of those works publicly — so when Brown approached her earlier this year about being part of “Northeast Deconstructed,” she readily agreed and submitted her heart paintings.

“Lynn is kind of the Roz Chast of our local art community,” Brown said with a laugh, referencing the longtime cartoonist for The New Yorker.

“Since 2012, I’ve made a drawing every day chronicling what I’ve seen, done, thought or felt,” Peterfreund says in an artist’s statement about her contribution to the show. “This is drawing as my way of giving form to a wish, a study of anatomy, a meditation, a hope.”

From photos to landscapes

Belchertown artist Shawn Sawicki, who also has a background in writing and teaches special education, includes a number of abstract and free-form ink and acrylic works on paper, from a large butterfly to a few loosely drawn landscapes.

He writes in his artist’s statement that drawing in a notebook “feels foundational for me” because of his memories of drawing on the edge of his notebooks when he was a student.

“I can’t always say I translate the images into larger works,” he says, “but many times what’s happening in my notebook acts as a supplement and a narrative to larger works on paper, wood or canvas.”

Amherst painter Brenna Cee Martins has offered a collection of somewhat gauzy graphite drawings of quotidian scenes — children playing in the grass, two girls seated on a couch with their heads turned toward a window — that evoke faded family photos now decades old.

Those images can feel like “orphans of a family that no longer exists, images of all the future ghosts of America, haunted and haunting,” she writes, capturing “moments of wonder, melancholy, strength and vulnerability.”

By contrast, the work from Stacy Caldwell, an artist from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Jesse Connor, who lives in Leverett, is highly detailed.

Caldwell, who draws precise, miniature landscapes — on her website she says she “inherited a love of the fields, hills, rivers, and streams from generations of Mennonite farmers” — has produced a series of postcard-size views that Brown has arranged from light to dark, as if you’re witnessing the passing of day into night.

And from Connor’s journals comes another series, this one of larger graphite landscapes and tableaux that are alternately surreal and spooky: furnished rooms with no ceilings, seemingly abandoned homes with weeds sprouting through the floor, and landscapes and village scenes mostly empty of people.

“These really can stand on their own,” Brown said. “But in Jesse’s case, they also serve as studies for some of his larger works.”

Brown says he spent “a lot of time” sifting through the sketchbook and journal art he received — his exhibit choices were mostly “instinctual,” he notes — and then culled and arranged the work in a way that made sense to him. The artists all agreed to that arrangement even though it meant removing pages from their journals and displaying them out of order.

But the process seems to have resonated with gallery visitors: Brown says 100 of these small works have been sold.

“I think people really like having this opportunity to get an inside look at what artists do and how they create,” he said.

“Northeast Deconstructed” runs through Jan. 7 at PULP. More information is available at pulpholyoke.com.