A Valentine to Fred And James

I want to tell you more about Pocket Utopia’s mission, but first, I’ll need to tell you about “sometimes” — the private or otherwise lesser-known but well-regarded pocket-of-a-gallery on Canal Street. It’s run by James Siena, artist. Simple. James shows mid-career artists whom he feels are deserving. Simple again. And that’s about the formula.

So: why don’t more galleries rock, if showing art is this easy? Simply put, they can’t. There’s a lot of back-story to making something difficult look easy, and James Siena’s got it. It’s called knowledge and experience and some time spent in the school of hard knocks.

Take, for instance, the work that’s up now by Fred Valentine. Fred is, like James, an artist who is also a gallerist. Funny, but it’s necessary to take one Ridgewood artist (Fred’s) paintings and pull them out of his backroom studio and bring them to Canal Street where they can be showcased in the front room (so to speak, not literally) of another artist’s studio — an artist-run gallery. Maybe I didn’t phrase that well, but let’s move on.

Yes, that’s a modern-day twist on a classic problem tackled by Goya in “Saturn Devouring His Son” — the creepy psychological power-trip truths that underly all family relationships.

says Fred:


Dad feels some remorse.

Says Goya:

Ergh. Well, his mouth’s full.
Everywhere in this tiny show, you get lots to chew on. There are mirror images, and domestic backdrops so portentiously calm, you could cast a Hitchcock movie in front of them.

There are impasto-ed surfaces, as well as that creepy-smooth April Gornik sort of thing, which Fred has ‘down.’ There are out-of-the-ordinary Cubist-y constructions. In short, styles and subjects that don’t quite fit in, yet which, when all combined, make a portrait of Fred’s concerns (obsessions?) as an artist and as a person.

Ooh, that toxic, gum-bichromate look — in oil paint, sans color.

There are artists who take on things that other people would rather not look at–and make them fun. Clearly Valentine is one. Childhood, Home: just try and survive your past. If you can, then you’re good.

Now, back to how James makes it all work — that simple approach is really just magic. At every opening (he says) he taps a glass and gets everyone’s attention. He says, “Everyone, this is So-and-So (artist).” then he points and says “And this is his work.”
Hope I got that anecdote right. The point is: do some amazing hard work yourself. Then, get out of the way. Let someone else amazing have the spotlight.

In his studio, I sort of grilled Siena for his ‘secret.’ Why’d he start the space? He said, in typical matter-of-fact fashion:
“You know what artists do in times of trouble?”
What, I replied.
“They help each other.”

*All photos courtesy Fred Valentine.

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