Art Review: Dusty Boynton, BCA Center | Art Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Art Review: Dusty Boynton, BCA Center


Published January 24, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated January 24, 2018 at 10:32 p.m.

  • Photos Courtesy Of Dusty Boynton And Denise Bibro Fine Art
  • "Odd Lot"

Some gallerygoers are exasperated, even incensed, by "childlike" contemporary art. This viewer is not one of them. Art has always seemed like a loophole, a serious game of making and asserting value within a larger economic picture that tends to disregard creative expression. And who is better at serious games than children?

"Dusty Boynton: From Within," one of three new exhibitions that opened last weekend at Burlington's BCA Center, throws open a playground for such inquiry.

On view on the gallery's first floor, the 15 works spanning 2011 to 2017 are primarily large-scale paintings in oil and mixed media, alongside four smaller hand-painted monoprints. Boynton's style, as several critics have noted, blends drawing and painting with seeming disregard for the distinction, using hard lines to delineate forms that float — and frequently overlap — on the picture plane.

In subject matter, Boynton — based in Vermont and represented by Denise Bibro Fine Art in New York City — alternates between lone figures and canvases populated with coteries of motley bodies and odd creatures. In "Bees Knees," for example, a child stands surrounded by a menagerie, including a speckled green snake with fangs bared, a black cat and some sort of bird.

Other animals are less identifiable, rendering them both funny and haunting — inhabitants of the unknown, the Upside Down, the subconscious. Closer inspection of the child's face reveals faint pencil marks, the outlines of approximations of smaller mammals.

Such chaotic groupings are the subject of many other works, appearing in roughest formation in the monoprints "61" and "64." These scenes appear unfinished, like pages pulled from the artist's notebook.

Boynton's ability to capture facial expressions with minimal line work is impressive. In "Odd Lot," an over-the-top-kooky and awkward family portrait, her figures seem to express terror and dismay, menace, urgency and coquettishness.

"Odd Lot" has a much less goofy counterpart in Boynton's intense mixed-media work "Not So Ordinary." Mostly rendered in cream, browns and black, a "family" grouping of three stands in the foreground against less defined, floating, specter-like forms. The largest of the primary figures has both breasts and a penis, reminiscent of self-taught artist Henry Darger's transgressions of conventional gender. That same figure is ejecting something red from its mouth that resembles both blood and a rudimentary speech bubble.

One small figure in "Odd Lot" has yellow pigtails and faces out of the frame in an avoidant act of defiance. That detail evokes another group of Boynton's works in which she focuses on a sole childlike figure and which tend to be darker in palette and mood.

  • Photos Courtesy Of Dusty Boynton And Denise Bibro Fine Art
  • "Pink but Blue"

Both "Pink But Blue" and "Stand Tall," each six-and-a-half feet high by five feet wide, depict approximations of feminized little girls. Each emerges from a gray background via strategic color markings: mustard-yellow pigtails, pink cheeks and blue around the eyes in "Pink But Blue"; rose-smeared lips and a dress with red flowers in "Stand Tall."

This suggestion of emergence from the dark, or the deep, is brought home in "Lady in Red." Here, an anthropomorphized doglike figure (the lady?) is illuminated in white against a smudgy brown and gray background. She stands beside the scribbled form of what may be a shadow self, a former self or an evil counterpart.

Boynton presents us with works that deliberately borrow from the amateur's visual language — hard outlines, distorted scale, zero depth of field, stray pencil marks, gestural color splashes and splotches. The viewer's — and the critic's — likely tendency is to search for and identify more adult themes. In his catalog essay for the exhibit "Dusty Boynton: Out of Line," titled "Dusty Boynton Dreams Herself," Donald Kuspit goes straight for it, noting "womanly red lips" in the images and even suggesting the presence of vagina dentata. He writes, "Sometimes [Dusty appears in her paintings as] an awestruck innocent girl — but always eroticized ... and sometimes she's a mischievous devil."

Boynton's work clearly packs darkness, made more poignant by her outwardly carefree style. Between the (false) poles of "serious adult" darkness and "childlike innocence," her driving motivations can be elusive. To find freedom on the canvas? To exorcise painful memories? To prove that children are far from carefree, or that our child and adult selves coexist long after we've grown? Boynton can strand a viewer without wind or compass in her world.

Regardless, her work offers us an exciting challenge: to let go of the need to justify it as "adult" and start, instead, reevaluating the artistic depth of the childlike.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Darkness and Light"

Related Locations

  • BCA Center