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By Ellen S. Comerford

Two new exciting exhibits are now on view at Niagara University's Castellani Art Museum.

Patrick Robideau's "Waterfall" immediately grabs your attention as you enter the gallery because of its size. Eighteen feet tall and 23 feet in width, Robideau's waterfall is made of antique trunks. It is literally a wall of trunks. A native of Niagara Falls, the award-winning sculptor has long been using the decline of the area as his theme. His work easily relates, however, to any northeastern rustbelt city that has seen factories close and jobs lost.

Is this waterfall meant to be the mighty cataract? "It relates to the history of Niagara Falls," he remarks.

Where did all those trunks come from? A call was sent out to the Niagara University community and they appeared from attics and basements in the area. With so many heavy objects to use in the sculpture, they needed to be locked together, Robideau explains, so he used dense foam that could be sculpted and manipulated and, later, painted.

Behind the piece you can hear water falling when the gallery is not as crowded as it was on opening night. Some of the fixtures on the old trunks are burnished, as if light is playfully flitting across certain areas. There is a feeling of age to the weathered trunks that conjures all kinds of images and memories. One woman viewing the construction of the sculpture said that, for her, it brought to mind the trunks novices entering the convent in years past brought with them. It was a place to store all their earthly goods and then, after they died, the trunks were left behind, probably with many of those same items in them. Trunks hold all sorts of things -- treasures and secrets and memories. There is a feeling of nostalgia here, but not cloying nostalgia.

Robideau's "Waterfall" is a wonderful piece. The museum hopes to find a permanent home for it after the exhibition ends. It most certainly deserves one!

The second exhibit, "Apocalypstick: The Promise of Peril," is a group of paintings by Eric Starke, a world traveler who currently divides his time between Bangkok, Thailand, and Winnipeg, Canada. According to a brochure that accompanies the exhibit, the subject matter of his work is culled from everyday items such as "matchbook covers, beer logs, movie posters, hygiene pamphlets, cleaning products and cereal boxes." All the imagery is appropriated from commercial advertising. He then blows the images up with a projector, arranges them, paints them and gives them new meanings. His work is influenced by his travels and how advertising grabs our attention everywhere, as the world becomes more and more alike and the Targets and Wal-Marts open the same store all over the world.

Starke presents these images to his viewers but, as many contemporary artists do, he does not preach his own agenda. Rather he asks the viewers to think, add their own experiences and come up with their own unique views.

"From Carpet Bag to Carpet Knife," is an interesting piece in which two images dominate. One looks to be taken from a movie poster advertising a horror film, as a man dressed in black wields a large knife. Above it is a simple drawing of a hand cutting with a box cutter. Through it is drawn a large X. Of course, the second image brings to mind the 9/11 hijackers, and we ask ourselves which image now is more frightening.

In an artist statement, Starke says, "I am not interested in the theme or message if the painting is bereft of formal and technical quality. This is not to say that painting functions as mere 'eye candy,' but the viewer must first be aesthetically engaged in order to justify intellectual contemplation."

Eric Starke's recent artistic travels have taken him to Barcelona, Vancouver, Chicago, New York City, Northern British Columbia and the remote jungles of Laos, Cambodia and Burma.

"Waterfall" and "Apocalypstick: The Promise of Peril" remain on view at the Castellani through Sept. 19.

Ellen S. Comerford is an artist and free-lance writer from Lewiston.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 3 2004