Gallery Profile: ARTSight | Gallery Profile | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published September 25, 2013 at 8:49 a.m.

In a former doctor’s office in downtown Bristol, five local artists are making their mark: Karla Van Vliet, Lily Hinrichsen, Basha Miles, Rachel Baird and Katie Grauer. They call their new collective ARTSight.

The studio, gallery and event space was born last February. Painter and poet Van Vliet, a Bristol native, had been looking for a space to work outside of her own home. After scouring the area for studio space, she settled on a rambling old house on South Street that most recently served as town offices. For several decades before that, it had been home to doctors’ offices.

“In fact, in that backroom,” says Van Vliet, pointing toward her studio on the building’s first floor, “I got my ears pierced when I was 6.”

When Van Vliet stumbled on the place, several rooms were for rent. So she asked her friend and fellow artist Lily Hinrichsen if she’d consider taking a studio there, too. Hinrichsen, an Iowa native who moved to Vermont several years ago to attend the Vermont Studio Center, says she had been missing the collective vibe of that studio community in Johnson. “That creative energy is really unlike anything that I had had,” she recalls.

Hinrichsen said yes. “The timing was impeccable,” she says. “And we just share the same vision.” The pair set out to transform the place into more than just shared workspace; they wanted to create an artistic community hub.

ARTSight Studios & Galleries, 6 South Street, Bristol. Paintings by Kit Donnelly, on view through October 31. Reception Tuesday, October 15, 6 to 8 p.m.

In July, three more artists joined the collective. Each currently has a studio, and a lobby-type space on the ground floor serves as a spacious gallery. Since ARTSight began, the group has flung open its studio doors to the public, hosting music, poetry and art events, which can spill out in the summer onto a large porch within earshot of the sounds of the babbling New Haven River.

Hinrichsen says she expected the side-by-side art making to be valuable, but the events have been surprisingly fruitful, as well. “Each of us is bringing in our own friends, so I’m meeting people who I wouldn’t meet otherwise,” she says.

And the work they show isn’t limited to the five resident artists. Next month, ARTSight will use the downstairs gallery space to display paintings by local artist Kit Donnelly. The gallery and studios will also be open for next month’s Vermont Open Studio Weekend, October 5 and 6.

Whenever an artist is working there and has put out the open sign, ARTSight welcomes drop-in visitors. On a recent morning, Hinrichsen and Van Vliet receive one and show their work. For visitors, the advantage of this kind of studio/gallery setup is getting to see works both finished and in progress.

Van Vliet’s paintings are meditative. Lately she’s been using a scored-painting process to give them an etching-like quality. She is drawn to abstract organic shapes, which evoke both the microbes swirling around in our bodies and the smooth pebbles at the bottom of a mountain brook.

“I’m trained as a poet, and I have often described what I write as using the landscape to describe the interior world,” Van Vliet says. “And I grew up here, so the river, the mountains, the way the mist rises — you can see that influence in there.”

A creaky staircase leads to the rest of the ARTSight studios, including Hinrichsen’s, a sunlit room that once served as an eye doctor’s office. A large painting in progress hangs on the wall. It’s easy to see from this work why Hinrichsen and Van Vliet consider themselves artistic kindred spirits. Hinrichsen’s painting is wilder and more colorful, but marked by similar floating organic forms.

She’s been photographing the painting as it evolves and hopes to show the pictures in a slideshow at another ARTSight event. “Every time we have an event here, the first hour is open studio,” says Hinrichsen. “People love seeing what’s happening. They’re noticing what’s changing.”

Her studio is filled with ideas and inspiration. Much of the abstract work hanging on her walls incorporates circular forms and rows of multiples. On Hinrichsen’s desk, a few dozen clamshells are arranged in rows. “I just had a visit to the ocean,” she says. “I brought them back just to hold the inspiration close to me.”

Here at ARTSight, the artists seem to feed off each other’s inspiration.

“Artists can be very isolated,” Hinrichsen says. “I’ve tended to work in isolation. The only time I’m talking about my work, it’s already hanging in a gallery.” At her new studio, she can bring an idea downstairs to discuss it with Van Vliet.

And the artists are open to new ideas for using the space. “We’re evolving as the building evolves,” Hinrichsen says. One long-term vision includes renting out the remaining portion of the house, which is currently an apartment, and using it to store, exchange and order art supplies.

“We both teach classes, so we could both have that as part of what we’re eventually going to do here,” says Van Vliet.

Downstairs in the lobby, beside a rack filled with the resident artists’ business cards, stands a small antique cash register that Van Vliet found on eBay, a gentle reminder that the art on display is also for sale.

Van Vliet demonstrates how she likes to use the register when someone makes a purchase. She presses a few buttons, and the little machine lets out a huge ding. Both artists laugh, and Hinrichsen jokes, “An artist just got wings.”

ARTSight Studios & Galleries, 6 South Street, Bristol. Paintings by Kit Donnelly, on view through October 31. Reception Tuesday, October 15, 6 to 8 p.m.