6:30 pm — 10:00 pm
Alfa Art Gallery
108 Church Street

New Brunswick, NJ 08901 United States
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Exhibition Duration : November 11 – December 1, 2011
Reception: Friday, Nov 11 @ 6:30 -10:30pm
Co-Curators: Jewel Lim, Kathryn Mecca 
Multidisciplinary Event: The New World Order

 The Alfa Art Gallery is proud to present “Art and Healing,” the joint exhibition of Iliyan Ivanov and Michael Fenton. This exhibition is dedicated to demonstrating the role of the arts in the healing processes of individuals, whether from a traumatic experience or the stresses of daily life.  Exposed to the painful stories of others, Ivanov and Fenton are inspired by the intensity of those who suffered from physical misfortunes, such as a stroke that paralyzes half the body, to scarring incidents, such as the multiple rapes experienced by a teenage girl. The styles of Ivanov and Fenton, abstract and representational, come together to unearth the dark side of life and, within their artwork, express the ups and downs of these happenings. In addition to these unfortunate individuals’ tales told through art, the artists also use art as a healing process from their everyday stresses in order to vent what cannot be said or relieved through words.


About the Artists

Iliyan Ivanov received his education from the George Yanakiev Art Studio in Bulgaria and the National Academy of Design, School of Fine Arts, in New York City. He has exhibited in several solo and group exhibitions in the United States, Germany and Bulgaria. His affiliations include the Momenta Art Slide Registry, Artist Space Slide Registry and the Viewing Program Slide Registry at The Drawing Center in New York.   

“The Journal” is a 6-panel composition borrowing on the images from two earlier series  “Lights Down” and “Fish Tanks” that later on came under the umbrella name “Who Was There?” series. The common idea focuses on the empty ambiguous spaces – empty rooms under hanging lamps either in the moment before the lights go out after someone just left or the second after the lights have come on before someone enters; similarly the empty fish-tanks symbolize the vacuum left after the water and life have been drained out or at the moment of waiting just before new life will be poured in.

The background of these paintings is writings from the journal of a psychotic teenage girl treated on a psychiatric unit who revealed a terrifying personal history of multiple rapes (recently becoming pregnant possibly in result of rape). To make matters worse her cognitive abilities were limited possibly secondary to a head trauma inflicted a year ago by her farther. She felt suspicious, paranoid and betrayed by everyone and appeared to be in an uneasy and ambivalent emotional state – right after something horrible may have happened and expecting to join the outside reality for one more time. Around that time I happened to see Milosh Forman’s film “Goya’s Ghosts” that told, among other things, the story of a young girl in 18 century Spain, played by Natalie Portman, who is imprisoned by the Inquisition to be transformed from a young beauty into a retarded ugly woman. If you may feel that such a story is an over-the-top fabricated and unrealistic overkill that could have happened only in the movies and if real, only in Inquisition controlled 18 century Spain, then what type of rationalization will help us, the residents of the 21st century capital of the world, to make sense of that teenage girl’s real-life story? After all, may be God really does not like ugly?

— Iliyan Ivanov


Michael Fenton is a representational-narrative painter who generally paints from his own experiences or his personal connection with the subject portrayed. After a successful career in the corporate world, he retired to pursue his love of art, painting in a variety of modes and mediums. His works range from Korean folk painting to realism to near-impressionism.

My work doesn’t come from a experience with darker regions of the human soul. I’m usually content to tell a story or make a simple statement and rarely originates from a place as deep and profound as Iliyan’s. I’ve avoided the dark areas of the human experience. To laugh is better than to cry, perhaps. But, I understand that  his work is not running a comedy club. He has to react to the human conditions he finds. And, I react to mine.

But both of us, I believe, use art as some sort of personal gyroscope to stay balanced. It’s a therapy or way to deal with what we see or experience. That, in itself, is art as a healing thing. My own art is first a way that helps me achieve balance in my life so that both stress or physical and mental “pain” can be tolerated or reduced and put into perspective. If I could not paint I would first become a physical wreck and then I would go “nuts”.  I’m convinced of that. I have learned that there is something in the creative process that has healing power. I’ve experienced it and I have seen it. And, I believe Winston Churchill said it many years ago.

I recently met two men. One, a man who turned to pencil sketching after experiencing a very serious and debilitating stroke that immobilized one whole side of his body. He began drawing using the bad side of his body and now, four years later he is winning awards with his highly realistic drawings. Before all this he was a carpenter and had never drawn. He is functioning almost normally today, although not as a carpenter. The other a young man in his 20′s who had Cystic Fibrosis and chose painting to express his experiences with this terrible disease. His bravery and talent moved me and he shared it with others to help them understand. He achieved a measure of pleasure in this, but sadly he lost his battle late this past summer. But the memory I carry of his love for painting and the way he smiled while talking about his paintings with me always. This is the healing power of art.

So, while my own art has value to me in my own health, I also volunteer to work with others to bring art into their lives so that they have an opportunity to gain from participating in a healing process. I’ve seen these folks “paint their pain” in order to better explain to others and themselves what their ailment has done to them. What they do appears to me, in a way, similar to your need to express your feelings, emotions, and experiences through your creations. It seems that not only do you get to release a lot of angst but you get to provide others with something that allows them to say/think, “wow, that’s just the way I feel…” or something like that.

Art is often an iceberg with only 10% of it showing. We never see the whole thing when we look at a picture, do we?

— Michael Fenton


November 11, 2011
6:30 pm - 10:00 pm EST
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Galina Kourteva
(732) 296-6720
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