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Nicole Carroll Art Consulting

“6” Hudson Valley artists at Denny Dillon’s Drawing Roomby M. R. Smith

Though rarely the tallest in the room, she’s impossible to miss. And you have seen her before, perhaps locally as the leader of Improv Nation, the spontaneous comedy group that performs at Rosendale and Shadowland Theaters, or at a performance of Actors and Writers at the old Olivebridge Odd Fellows Hall. Possibly it was the ill-fated 1980-81 Saturday Night Live post-original cast season, though it is much more likely one of numerous TV, film, and Broadway appearances over the course of a 30+ year career…all starting with a not-so-subtle come on to John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

Denny Dillon is a bundle of buoyant energy that you can’t help but respond to with a grin, and though she may be best known as a comedic actress, she’s also quite an accomplished artist, a successful artist’s representative, and the owner of The Drawing Room, her home gallery in Stone Ridge. Just over a year ago, after a very successful exhibition of large-scale works by sculptor/painter Gillian Jagger, she closed the gallery for renovation and some re-evaluation. (Plus, she was getting more acting work.) But later in May, she plans to reopen the gallery with her first ever group show “6”, featuring six diverse Hudson Valley-based artists, each operating in distinctly different formats: painting, woodwork, encaustics, puppetry, and sculpture. “I think each artist has a distinct vision, and they all enhance each other. So the answer is no, no unifying theme, except everyone is an original.” Like Denny.

Early April, one of those nice spring days where the sun finally knocks some warmth back into the breeze, lunch at Jack & Luna’s—the delightful lunch spot/jazz club on Rte. 209, in Stone Ridge. And…I’m sorry Denny, but I’m going to bug you just one last time about SNL, because I just recently rented the uncut first season on DVD, and lo and behold, there you were, doing a duet (with Mark Hampton) in a nun’s habit, five years before joining the cast! “We actually auditioned for SNL, they liked us a lot, but you know, most of the company was from (Chicago’s) Second City. They wanted us to guest star on their third show ever, and hired us to do the nuns! It’s interesting because five years later, when the original group left, I kept being submitted by my agent, but the new producer (Jean Doumanian) was not taking any submissions by legit agents, she was thinking she was going to find raw talent in comedy clubs—where they found Joe Piscopo and Gilbert Gottfried.” A chance meeting on the street with someone from the show put her back on the radar. Six auditions later she was cast. Denny is still proud of her time there. “It was (more) extremely political and radical and revolutionary than it is now.”

OK, enough about the distant past, mustn’t let the soup get cold. Denny is on her way down to the City today to audition for a prominent replacement role in a popular Broadway run I wish we could tell you about, but I won’t jinx it. It has, however, been an eventful year away from the gallery, while waiting out the sidewalk construction project in Stone Ridge, which effectively cut off access to the gallery for months. “Last year, mostly, I was an actress. Worked on a new musical based on Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, at Goodspeed Musicals (East Haddon, CT) working with Broadway director Graciela Daniele, and (modern dance troupe) Pilobulus. That was a real high, working with the brilliant song team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; they’re very young and on fire!” Denny played James’ evil aunt Sponge. In the meantime, her Improv Nation has stayed busy as well, fueled partially by a recent artist-in-residency at SUNY Ulster, and with upcoming summer performances in Rhinebeck and Maverick Concerts (Woodstock) planned.

But right now, it’s about the art, the gallery. “So, I’ve been making a living for—I don’t know, 30 years—as an actress, when I decided to have a gallery, which is because of my other creative passion for art. I never thought: oh, I know what I’m doing. I’m not professing to be anything I’m not. But, I wanted the gallery to reflect me, which I think is quirky, unusual. That’s the kind of art I wanted to show.”

And so she does. Denny has long been a champion of Hudson Valley artist Chris Hawkins—featured in the reopening show—even helping him make a sale to her good friend Lily Tomlin. “He’s just a complete original visionary, I’m crazy about his work; it’s very whimsical. If I could paint, I would do what Chris does!” Great technique, with real humor, “also kind of subversive and edgy.” Here is the artist’s statement: “In (the) new paintings the dialogue is visceral manipulation of personal icons; the composites ape dream in the gardens of law and religion. Although the characters may be uncertain, they are incisive as villains against tampered knowledge. As the soils are tilled, in innocence they look for mercy in values and essentials.”

“Then there’s Fawn Potash, a really interesting artist, who takes a lot of things from the connection she finds between nature and human anatomy.” Indeed, the Catskill-based photographer/artist, who is also an instructor at the school of Visual Arts as well as Visual Art Director at the Greene County Council on the Arts, readily embraces the natural form. The artist: “I am attracted to the inter-relatedness of it all, nature's miracle of co-operation. I allow myself to use a photographic image five times to see what happens each time depending on my internal landscape.” Potash’s recent work blurs the painted and photographic image, resulting in something new and organic.

Which segues nicely to the finely-detailed woodwork of Kalyani Harrington, a recent Hudson Valley resident by way of California, carving bas relief textures into large wood pieces, using acrylic paint to enhance and define plateaus and spaces. The artist (we do like to let them speak here): “These works are a means to strip away false identities placed on me by others and self. My works have to do with the pains and struggles of being a human, my identity as a woman, and essentially, with my existence on this earth plan. ‘Listen’ (new work) was inspired when, moving here last spring. I was intensely moved by the surrounding nature.”

Well, if we’re going to have woodwork, we might as well have…..puppets! When she saw Galen Green’s work, Denny had a light bulb moment, and had to get her into the show. A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 2004, Green majored in film and animation, always with high-quality “puppet” works (or should we say, kinetic forms?) that also work beautifully as stand-alone sculpture. Her partner, Thomas Legnon, is also in the show: scenic artist/props person in all major Northwest theaters, worked with LucasFilms, Al Held, Jeff Koons, and the Starn Twins. Now he’s into encaustic painting, using wax-based pigment to achieve unusual color and textural results, often in the abstract. “An artist is a vessel, a conduit to materialize and infuse something with passion, energy, and hopefully, mystery. Otherwise, it’s just an ad, or an easily digested visual snack.”



All well and good, but we certainly must recognize the host’s work in her own show, and her drawings and miniature “Art Inside the Box” pieces are as whimsical as they are well-constructed. “When I first started showing my quirky, weird drawings of little cities, they were seen as odd. I don’t have any training; I just have a style. I got into the Art Inside the Box. I loved Joseph Cornell, miniatures, started going crazy with that stuff.” It’s fun stuff that always rewards the second, or third, and ongoing look. Just like Denny.

Denny Dillon’s The Drawing Room Art Gallery re-opens with the group show “6” Saturday May 21. The Drawing Room, 3743 Main St. (Rte. 209), Stone Ridge, www.thedrawingroomonline.com, 845.687.4466. Gallery hours Fr-Su 11 AM-6 PM and by appt. Artist reception 5-8 PM



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