Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Artists and Art

November/December issue, 2009

Lynn Stein

Her Art, Her Way

by Paul Clark

There’s something familiar about the art of Lynn Stein. But then again, there isn’t. And in everything she is as an artist — painter, singer and artistic director of Rockland Center for the Arts — that’s exactly the way she wants it.

Her jazzy, figure-and-style-oriented paintings are the colorful reincarnations of the alluring fashion photographs that first enchanted her as a young girl in the ‘60s. A vibrant, vicarious approach that now totally and unashamedly mimics the fun, familiar and frolicky fashion photos she sees on the society page of the Sunday Times, the back of a Kohl’s catalog or in movie ads tucked alongside articles in magazines and other media. (Her colorful re-creation of a vintage publicity shot featuring Yves Montand and Shirley MacLaine captivated the cover of a recent issue of The Hook.)

It was something I always wanted to do but didn’t because of my training in school,” Stein smiles, “I didn’t feel it was ‘valid.’ In those days, you didn’t work with photographs.” But then she saw the art of Gerhard Richter, an “amazing German painter” whose dashing style and exuberant executions instantly validated — and ignited — her desire to color up and personalize the fashion, emotion and persona of the moments frozen in the photos she fancied. “I love clothes, seeing people in clothes and what the clothes say about the people wearing them,” she says. “When I saw Richter’s paintings, I just went crazy! I thought: what difference does it make? That’s what I want to do!”

Stein is also putting a lot of time and energy these days into another art form she has always enjoyed doing her way: singing. Like her paintings, the songs she sings with her new love, the recently formed bass-vocal duo Jon and Lynn, are familiar ‘60s melodic pop and jazz compositions. But each, as she and bassist Jon Burr recreate them, portrays a beat, style and fashion all its own.

Her partner Jon Burr is an accomplished musician she first met 12 years ago while making a CD in New York, and re-connected with through Facebook. Burr has played with legends like Tony Bennett, Eartha Kitt, Barbara Cook, Rita Moreno and others. As a duo, they’re busy performing in and around the New York City area, and recently posted a collection of six new tracks on twt.fm. There’s also a new video — put together by Burr and posted on MySpace — that coolly and cleverly integrates several of her trademark paintings into the production.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she says, “but also scary because it’s not practical to be doing this. We’re both in our 50s and people in their 50s,” she laughs, “do not go around their house making music videos.” Is painting easier than singing? “With art the stakes aren’t as high, I have total control. I get my Yea! moment when the painting is finished. Music is your ego on the line. I have something to say and if you’re not listening,” she grins, “what am I doing up there?”

Stein also has a lot to say at Rockland Center of the Arts, where she began working after moving from the Bronx nine years ago. “At the time,” she explains, “they didn’t have a gallery director, no curator on staff, no one to do the booking of performances.” Today, she’s the Center’s artistic director, a position she developed through hard work over time. “I love my job,” she beams, “I’m so lucky to be working there.”

At RoCA she does everything from developing, coordinating and marketing exhibits of area and regional artists — as well as artists outside the Hudson Valley — to arranging live performances, expanding and improving the scope of youth and adult educational programs, and ensuring that all of the Center’s programs work for everyone.

“My biggest challenge is balancing what’s happening around the country with what’s being done in the region,” she says. “I feel I have a good handle on making the work I do bring in as accessible to the public as possible. I hope I have an impact on the community, and that I make the artists feel good about what they do so that RoCA becomes a goal for artists to have their work shown there.”

To keep new work and talent coming in, she continually goes to shows and exhibits, and follows up on leads from all over the country. She attends and books performances — cellist and Rockland native Eric Friedlander being one of the most recent — and is exploring new media possibilities like an exhibit of iPhone and other phone-cam photos. “With phones, you tend to take pictures of things that you ordinarily wouldn’t. It’s a lot more intimate, and could be really interesting.”

Lynn Stein is happy doing what she wants, just the way she wants it. Right now, she wants to concentrate on the singing, “because even when I’m not doing it, I’m thinking about doing it. I still like to paint, because it does good things for me when I paint. I love my job,” she beams again, “but when I sing, there’s nothing like it. It’s just way-off-the-charts wonderful.”

Visit Lynn Stein’s online gallery at lynnstein.com. Hear her latest recordings at twt.fm/jonandlynn, and see her music video and upcoming performance dates at myspace.com/jonandlynn. For information on RoCA exhibits, performances and programs, visit rocklandartcenter.org.

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