‘Desert Oasis’ by William Hogan

Two area visual art exhibitions help usher in the new year. And while their venues are in different regions, they share an artistic vision.

The first 2013 exhibition at the Trenton City Museum, “In My View,” which opens Saturday, January 19, represents a moving forward and a maintaining.

The moving forward is that the museum is working to redefine its exhibition planning after long-time museum director Brian Hill’s full-time position was eliminated. That position was funded by the financially challenged City of Trenton. The directorship is now a part-time position funded by the Trenton Museum Society.

Since current director Bob Sands, who has held the position on a part-time basis since spring, 2012, is an historian, the museum’s arts efforts are being brought forward by a committee. This new exhibition — running to Sunday, February 24 — was guided by committee member Jack Koeppel.

Born and raised in Pennington, Koeppel is known to many for his management of the family-owned Queenstown Gallery. He also served as curator for exhibitions at the D&R Greenway Trust and as an exhibition coordinator for the Woodrow Wilson School’s Bernstein Gallery. He recently retired for health-related reasons.

Koeppel says that the skilled artists in “In My View” had been promised a show by the former museum director, so he and other members of the recently created exhibitions committee made it a point to follow through. By doing so, they show the museum’s continuing commitment to regional artists and art.

The result will be an exhibition that divides the first-floor in a manner that allows three artists — Florence Moonan, William Hogan, and Stephen Smith — to both work together and make individual statements.

While the artists’ approaches have divergent interpretations of life and use different styles and media to express their vision, “One common aspect of the three is a passion for expressing the experience of travel and the arts — including music and acting — and communicating how these experiences have shaped their lives. In addition, all three artists’ work is rich in colors that saturate every square inch of their art,” says a museum statement.

Stockton, New Jersey, based painter Florence Moonan has been a consistent presence in the region. Her paintings are in the collection of the Mercer County cultural and Heritage Commission and the College of New Jersey, and she has been in group and solo shows in the Trenton City Museum, the College of New Jersey, and the George Segal Gallery.

Of her art work Moonan says, “I am a painter who loves the element of surprise. When attacking a blank surface, I am filled with anticipation about how the finished work will reveal itself. Each work pushes the direction of the next until I have exhausted the possibilities.”

The artist says her abstract and lyrical paintings are created by building deliberate layers of color, gesture, and movement. “Then I begin scraping, erasing, sanding, or rubbing through the surface, uncovering buried marks and hidden textures. A variety of tools are used for making marks, and developing unique surfaces, and in some cases multiple media add to this process. I find painting in such a direct manner satisfying, but it also demands a willingness on my part to reveal unanticipated emotions, history, and thoughts to my viewers,” she says.

The artist notes that until recently she painted primarily with acrylics and acrylic medium. But recently she began to use Venetian plaster to produce surfaces that are immediately appealing and sensuous. She says she has also been exploring encaustic techniques (using hot wax) and plans to use “this sensuous, ancient art” in her new work.

Northern New Jersey raised and now Bucks County-based artist William Hogan obtained a certificate in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and an MFA from the Universities of the Americas in Mexico City. After teaching arts and crafts at a junior high school in New Mexico, he returned to New Jersey to serve as an illustrator and cartoonist for the Record newspaper.

Of his approach to creating art, Hogan says, “I find it an exciting challenge to face any blank surface and create images that make them speak to me with ideas that blend my experiences with my imagination. I love the process of painting on a canvas surface, any surface for that matter, the give and take, the trial and error, the unconscious positive and negative accidents which may occur and might also lend shape and energy to my emerging compositions.”

Hogan says that he is “still discovering, opening my imagination, pushing the envelope, so to speak, challenging my expressions on canvas, and looking for essence of my personal truth in my paintings. My final brush stroke is not the end of a particular painting, but the beginning of the next. It’s an on-going revelation.”

Hogan has participated in numerous regional and national exhibitions, including past shows at the Trenton City Museum. He is a docent for the Princeton University Art Museum and a member of Artists of Yardley.

Pennington-based pastel artist and caricaturist Stephen Smith also attended the School of Visual Arts as well as the Art Students League of New York. He has exhibited with the Pastel Society of America as well as the Society of Illustrators in New York City; Phillips Mill Annual in New Hope; Pennsylvania; Butler Museum of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio; Woodstock Artists Association in Woodstock, New York; Samuel Fleischer Art Memorial in Philadelphia; and Ellarslie Museum in Trenton.

In addition to providing editorial artwork for the Philadelphia Inquirer and courtroom illustration for CBS and ABC television in Philadelphia and New York City, Smith worked in the New York City theatrical scenery business for 30 years, providing art services for Broadway and televisions shows such as Saturday Night Live, Metropolitan Opera, Guiding Light, and David Letterman.

Museum information says that Smith’s works “range from humorous ink caricatures and small sculptures of famous personages to luxurious portraits and landscapes in rich pastel colors. The artist has imbued each work with a special personality that varies from the traditional disaffection of a reclining nude to the solitude of an old vehicle in its final resting place.”

The three artists will come together and talk more about their art and approaches during a gallery talk on Sunday, February 10.

Visitors and artists also have the opportunity to get to know the curator Koeppel’s vision by visiting Pennington. That is where an exhibition of his photographic work continues to Saturday, February 9, at the Veridian Gallery. Veridian is the former Queenstown Gallery, now run by Koeppel’s daughter, Dana Koeppel, representing the third generation of gallery owners.

“I jokingly said to people for 30 years that one day I’m going to retire and put everything I’ve seen in my head and put it to use. Only after I officially gave up working with other artists would I consider myself worthy to showing what I could do,” he says during a telephone conversation.

Wanting to do more than make snapshots, Koeppel enrolled in the Maine Media Workshop to enhance his ability to merge technique with artistic vision. With the approach of a milestone birthday (this past December), his daughter suggested his current show. Koeppel says, “the whole idea was my daughter’s idea for my 60th birthday. It’s given me the opportunity to show my own artistic side.”

He adds that his show, “A Closer Look,” also lets him explore overlooked details of everyday life. “In the case of architecture I look for parts of the building that interest me. Often they’re high off the ground where we might easily miss them. I imagine I’ve left the ground and taken flight. My view point is high in the air — I’m seeing these rich details up close. Later I manipulate the images by straightening lines and perspective, selecting only certain parts of the building as the focus of my final composition,” he says.

His subject matter are locations, including Cape May, where was attracted by the detailed architecture of its historic Victorian buildings.

But it was Italy that has captivated his eye, “In 2006 I traveled to Italy for the first time with my daughter. We were both completely overwhelmed by the places we visited. In Rome we saw remnants of the ancient world for the first time. Classical images sprang into my head, and with my little ‘point and shoot’ camera I tried to capture my impressions. I’ve explored that theme by removing the color and printing some images in sepia tone. In an effort to enhance the texture and warmth of the photograph, I printed them on an artist’s quality Arches paper.”

And then there was Venice, a city, he says, that captured his heart and perhaps serves as a muse.

“One of my dreams — and I’m chasing dreams after I got sick — is to travel,” says Koeppel. “And this year I rented an apartment and lived in Venice for a month. It’s been these beautiful locations that have inspired me. And Venice is my love. Something strange for a small town boy, but there’s something about. That’s what the show’s about.”

The same can be said for both shows.

In My View, Trenton City Museum, Cadwalader Park, Trenton. Artists Stephen Smith, Florence Moonan, and William Hogan, opening reception, Saturday, January 19, 7 to 9 p.m. Free. Exhibition continues to February, Sunday, February 24, Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays, 1 to 3 p.m. Free gallery talk with the artists, Sunday, February 10, 2 p.m. 609-989-1191 or www.ellarslie.org.

A Closer Look, Veridian Gallery, 43 South Main Street, Pennington. Photographs by Jack Koeppel, Tuesdays through Fridays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Saturday, February 9. 609-737-3838 or www.veridiangallery.com.