Daybreak, on a bitter January morning in Cleveland. People are bundled up and the sun is just beginning to grace the sky, though it's not doing much in terms of warmth. All in all, not a real favorable time to skim out onto the water and imbibe new views of our fair city, most of us would agree.
"Not getting out on the lake is killing me right now," confesses photographer Christina Sadowski. We are at the Eleven 2 Gallery as she installs Reflections of Cleveland, her first concise solo exhibition. The artist has mounted her work around the gallery on what resembles a filmstrip, in what you could call "Cleveland gray," after the winter skies that envelop the city during the cold months.
Sadowski entered the art world while attending Baldwin Wallace University for HR and business administration. After taking a digital photography course, "that was the end of that," she says. "I had a great instructor who pushed me and I just kept going." While at BW, she met Rich Cihlar and invited herself to be a partner at Eleven 2, along with Billy Naininger; they celebrated their four-year anniversary in November 2017.
The photographs of Cleveland from the Cuyahoga River that make up this exhibit were born from diving into another passion: kayaking. "I don't like water, I don't like swimming, I don't like boats, but I decided that I was going to do something out of my comfort zone," she says. "I went out with artist Natalia Dale in one of her kayaks. When they went on sale in May, I pulled the trigger on buying two of them. Once I got to a certain comfort level, I brought my camera out with me and began incorporating these two things I love."
The photographs stem from personal images of what Sadowski calls the Mermaid Squad: the name of her two kayaks, and a reflection of her love of mermaids. "I dubbed myself a mermaid because of my purple hair and my purple kayaks and attitude, so whoever wants to come out for the day becomes a part of the squad."
These original, smaller images are reminiscent of 1970s Polaroids. We found it to be a very modern nostalgia. In fact, each image is romantic, showing what the city looks like as she rustles from her slumber. These photographs tell a succinct story of beauty within the symmetry of skyline and water. They are crisply printed on cold press paper. We can see the detail of windowpanes silently indenting the buildings, like a paper punch that hadn't quite achieved its purpose.
Sadowski would launch from Whiskey Island and make her way around the bending, winding Cuyahoga River out to the four- and-a-half mile marker (Sadowski submitted artwork for the Cuyahoga mile-marker sign near Kingsbury Run, which is apparently a thing) and capture the majestic old Coast Guard Station, now restored to its former glory by the Metroparks, Within the exhibition, Sadowski has snapped both the Buffalo and the Ashtabula, two of the many impressively massive barges that navigate the river's difficult turns. "The Buffalo on its side is as tall as the Terminal Tower," the artist says. "They were docked at the time. Sailors will give warning to boaters. It's impressive how tiny one is in comparison."
In one particular photograph, clouds look like orange sherbet-colored cotton candy. The lighting certainly reflects the sleepiness of the city as it prepares for the day ahead. There are rowers in the background. The artist confesses that she won't be back out on a Sunday, as the rowers who dot the river do not like to share the water. The rapid transit train passes by with a certain moodiness and we can virtually smell the possibility of rain.
Sadowski's first exhibition is unique in its storyline and viewpoint. The pieces are much like film stills, portraits of a peaceful hour that furthers our affection for our beautiful city.
Gallery hours are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the Third Friday artwalk at the 78th Street Studio, or by appointment.