MIDDLETOWN, RED BANK: ARTISTS IN MOTION

Commuter artArtist Suzanne Ritger’s mini-watercolors — done in real-time during her morning bus commute to NYC — are a highlight of her exhibit opening Saturday at Middletown Library, while Jon Peters offers up star-spangled examples of American Art (below) at Laurel Tracey Gallery.

LaurelTracyIt’s kind of a cliche for an artist to talk at great length about their “journey,” but in the case of Suzanne Ritger, that journey was a very real way of arriving at a point of inspiration — hurtling through space at 65 mph, and with a busload of fellow passengers along for the ride, whether they realized it or not.

A resident of Red Bank for the past three years, Ritger spent a solid two of those trips around the sun going back and forth from the borough to Manhattan, where her job at a nonprofit agency required her to spend a considerable chunk of her time on a NJ Transit commuter bus. Scenes of that morning journey — hundreds of them; captured in watercolor on postcard-size canvases — form the centerpiece of Are We There Yet?, a solo show of the artist’s work going up on display at Middletown Township Public Library, beginning with a reception this Saturday, October 11.

Matter-of-factly subtitled 676 Watercolors from My Bus Commute to NYC, the exhibit commandeers a wall of the library’s Community Room for a “Jiffy Louvre” display of images that somehow manages to find variation, nuance, even poetry in the potentially mind-numbing tableau of the Parkway, the Turnpike and the Tunnel.

“I wouldn’t have thought of that route as something inspirational,” laughs Ritger, who’s exhibited her work in both national and international venues. “But they say there’s art in everything, so why not the New Jersey Turnpike?”

Working with a compact watercolor paint set — and “no more than a tablespoon of water, so that if it ever fell, the mess would be minimal” — Ritger averaged more than one painting for each work day, amassing a body of work that (through the subtle differences in light, the effects of velocity, and the vagaries of weather) looks at the almost featureless landscape of commuterland with fresh eyes.

Each painting is dated; some have the times, and some have comments about the situation at hand — “We should be there by now”, or quotes from the bus drivers (“Something every damn day”), or general observations on the weather (“Another storm approaches”). Just to shake things up, there are “even a couple from a vacation or two.”

Bus trips being what they are, the real-time paintings often display a distinct lack of “accurate, straight lines” — and the commuter class being who they are, it’s a collection of images that were created largely without comment, criticism or even reaction from the artist’s fellow passengers.

“I think I had just one person get up and change seats because they were afraid of getting paint spilled on them,” Ritger explains. “But ninety percent of the time, no one said a thing to me.”

Having subsequently been laid off from her city gig, Ritger has been interviewing for a number of positions that would require her to drive herself to work once more — and while she assures redbankgreen that she’s not about to take up painting-while-driving, she has used these days to reacquaint herself with the “big oil paintings” that she’s been meaning to explore.

The artist will be present at MTPL for a public-welcome opening reception to Are We There Yet?, between the hours of 2 to 4 pm on Saturday. The exhibit remains on display during regular library hours through November 2.

Heading back into the borough, the Laurel Tracey Gallery — an established space that, as redbankgreen reported in a recent post, may soon be departing its longtime storefront at 10 White Street — celebrates 15 years in Red Bank with a display of American Art that opens with a reception from 6 to 8:30 pm on Saturday evening. A collection of eleven artists (Derek Buckner, Arthur Cohen, Francis Cunningham, James Gahagan, Robert Henry, Duane Keiser, Christine Lafuente, Valerie Mendelson, Jon Peters, Scott Redden, Selina Trieff) take part in the group show that’s scheduled to remain on display during normal gallery hours (Tuesdays through Saturdays, 12 to 4:30 pm) or by appointment.