Home LifestyleCareer This NJ Artist Highlights the Garden in Garden State

This NJ Artist Highlights the Garden in Garden State

by Sarah Griesbach
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When Henry Hudson first entered the river that would later bare his name, he referred to the fragrant forests and the surrounding sea grass-covered shorelines as the Garden of Eden. Though no longer the pristine ecological wonderland it once was, our region still teems with life. Artist Cheryl Agulnick Hochberg has built an art practice that brings to light the splendor of nature living right here, within our midst. Read on to learn more about this New Jersey artist celebrating the beautiful world around us here in New Jersey.

cheryl agulnick hochberg

The Allure of Nature

The imagery that artist Cheryl Agulnick Hochberg has brought into her work in the past decade is situated in the ecological. Her mission regarding art is broad and wide, but Cheryl has found that the nature themes she explores have a universal appeal that transcends political views and other differences that might divide people.

cheryl agulnick hochberg

“I intend for my work to stimulate conversations and engagement, so it’s really great to be working with nature as subject matter because it is one of the few subjects that can bridge the blue/red divide. In fact, everyone wants to talk about it. They see certain animal populations are declining or that there are less birds. They read about the droughts and wildfires even if they don’t experience them personally.”

cheryl agulnick hochberg

Read More: The Artist Behind Art World Phenomenon KAWS Hails from Jersey City

Why Make Art?

When Cheryl installed her woodcut and wheat paste mural depicting buffalo and butterflies on a highway underpass that is viewed from the Laramie River Greenbelt Trail in Laramie, Wyoming in September of 2022, she made a presentation about the artwork and her art career to fifth graders at a public school. She was asked great questions that can only come from ten-year-olds, such as “Do you like dogs or cats better?” She had a blast talking about art and anything else that those kids brought up. But the question “why do you make art?” stopped her in her tracks.

cheryl agulnick hochberg

Now that Cheryl is able to “do art,” as she puts it, full time, after 30 years of teaching, she thinks about her art all the time. She finds that it’s the first thing she thinks about when she wakes up in the morning, and the last when she goes to bed. Cheryl feels that, far from being frivolous, making art is “a highly moral and serious thing to do. You make something from nothing, and try to make some invisible truth visible.”

The How of It

Cheryl works in a wide range of media and formats including painting, drawing, printmaking, installation, and public art. Part of the reason she switches back and forth between so many visual approaches is that each does different parts of what she hopes her whole body of work over a lifetime might accomplish. The other part of her versatility is rooted in the fact that she just likes them all too much to give any medium up.

cheryl agulnick hochberg

Versatility is often a necessity for career artists. Like most artists, Cheryl adapts her production to meet the goals before her. Large-scale artworks require one thing while formal presentation in a gallery space requires a very different format. And like all artists, she must think entrepreneurially, exhibiting paintings and woodcuts destined for high-end collections and prints for the many who find her images of foxes skulking and birds in beautiful flight patterns irresistible. Other artworks, such as her public mural projects, can’t be bought, as such, but will be seen by countless walkers by.

The Life of an Artwork

The time it takes to complete a woodcut in her studio is a small fraction of the expected lifespan of Cheryl’s artworks. The long-as-possible period of the artwork’s reception is what truly excites Cheryl. The artwork will likely be shown in an exhibition where it will spark thoughts, perhaps conversation, perhaps even something transformative.

“It may be asking too much of art to hope it changes minds, but certainly it is reasonable to hope that people engage with it in ways that stimulate conversation and make people question their assumptions. Presented in the correct way, my art does do that.”

The joy of engaging many viewers in her vision is why Cheryl has become increasingly interested in public art. “Everyone looks at it. People talk about it who aren’t like me, and who don’t think what I think. Often they have completely different experiences coming to the subject matter than people who view my work in galleries. I find that really satisfying.”

One such project is her massive painted wood panel fence facade in River Barge Park in East Rutherford, NJ. The cheerful sequence animation is titled The Crab Reveals/The Crab Portends and sparks thoughts of a future when the nearby Hackensack River will be clean enough for the consumption of its bounty. Artworks such as this, along with her exhibits within community art centers, nature centers, and other places one step removed from the formal art world, have a unique and worthwhile purpose.

cheryl agulnick hochberg

Sometimes artworks are made not to last.

The impermanence of her artworks is something Cheryl thinks about. “I have always enjoyed the artist Swoon, who has spoken and written about impermanence. She thinks of her work as “living” — it is young, then it ages, then it dies. I am fine with that — maybe not for everything I do, but certainly for some of it. Because my work does not prioritize being famous or living forever in a museum — but instead prioritizes viewer engagement — permanence is not a necessity.”

See More: New Jersey Artists Featured at the Montclair Art Museum

Home is Where the Art Is

Cheryl lives in Boonton, New Jersey. Her studio is in the Manufacturers Village Complex in East Orange and she loves it “It’s the first time I’ve had my studio outside my house. Three years into being there, I still sigh when I walk into my studio.”

Cheryl prizes her location in New Jersey. One reason is the support she’s found here. “I’ve found that people in New Jersey will buy art which does grease all the wheels of my operation. And I find it really satisfying that people around me like it and own it.”

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