(Photo: courtesy of the artist)

The latest Hamilton Street Gallery exhibition weds work by two artists whose antipodal styles share underlying unities, demonstrating yet again the aesthetic acuity of husband and wife proprietors Brian McCormack and Joan Sonnenfeld. “Road Work” juxtaposes Fred Cole’s sculptural improvisations with the atmospheric acrylic compositions of Steven Epstein.

“Steven’s expressive acrylic paintings combine realistic and abstract imagery, depicting urban and suburban activities of people doing everyday things, mostly at night,” McCormack said . “Fred repurposes found objects--functional and nonfunctional--joining elements to form imaginative assemblages often whimsical in nature.”

The divergent oeuvres of Cole and Epstein first intersect at their point of origin.

“Joan and Brian have chosen to exhibit Steve’s work with mine because of our mutual interest in the streets,” said Cole. “Steven depicts them through his paintings, while I scour them for sculptural components.”

Epstein’s canvases evoke the somber solitude of the places where Cole seeks, discovers and retrieves the broken discards that comprise his medium of expression. Gathering scraps of wood and iron, manikins, rollers and pulleys, sprockets and gears, colored reflectors, hardware and fabric and more, Cole reassembles it all as evocative new entities.

“The process of recycling found objects for artistic purposes is an old one,” he said. “Those who work in such a medium find that the material often drives the direction of the artwork.”

Cole revitalizes abandoned materials by integrating them into new totalities. Yet the constituent elements retain the melancholic resonances associated with their disenfranchised states, heightening the poignancy of his assemblages.

“The objects are obsolete and no longer needed,” McCormack said. “They have a sadness about them. Their usefulness has faded away.”

The yin-yang tension in Cole’s work between brokenness and transcendence manifests equally in his co-exhibitor’s paintings. Epstein’s late night street scenes emanate a mood of loneliness and lost purpose tempered by revelation and renewal that demarcate a second intersection between the two artists’ work.

The settings of Epstein’s paintings appear bleak, yet particulars such as neon reflections, shadowy gleams, penumbras, and geometries of dark and light, serve as beacons winking toward mystic secrets.

“The roadscape becomes a world with another dimension--boundaries dissolving between the real and the abstract, the solid and the suggested,” Epstein explained. “Atmosphere, mystery, mood, and possibility – I try to put some of that magic into my paintings.”

A profusion of diverse factors, art historical and pop cultural, dovetail in the shaping of Epstein’s motivations and visual style.

“My influences include expressionism and film noir, social realism and such 20th century masters of horror and absurdity as Picasso and Bacon,” said Epstein. “Also, the spiritual isolation of Hopper and van Gogh, the wordless moods of jazz improvisations, and the blues ecstasy of expressing the pain of existence.”

Both Epstein and Cole incline towards the gloomy, but light candles rather than curse the darkness. The two signify principles of transcendence via luminescent effects, which marks the third intersection between their respective artistic practices.

“Fred’s sculptures are often energized and lit to enhance their beauty and effectiveness,” Sonnenfeld explained. “Steven introduces sources of artificial light--street lamps and car headlights – to enhance and elaborate shadowy distortions, and multiply the reflections and flashes of color that evoke the glowing mystery of his night scenes.”

The “Road Work” exhibit demonstrates how two distinctive artistic oeuvres, so singular in all particulars, may nonetheless arise from a shared wellspring of dynamic vitality.

“It’s the high voltage that lurks unseen underneath – searching, focusing, revealing – that gives these artworks their spirit and energy,” said Sonnenfeld.

“ROAD WORK,” ART BY FRED COLE AND STEVEN EPSTEIN