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Beyond Landscape

Art Review


EXHIBIT: "Land": a group exhibition featuring works by Maria Chomentowski, Julie A Davis, Peter Fried, Bruce Hathaway, JE Horner, Mary Long and Carol Norton. VCAM Space, Burlington. Through January 12.

ARTWORK:"Raining" by Julie A. Davis

"Land," a group show at the Vermont Community Access Media office off Flynn Avenue, isn't an all-landscape show, as the title would suggest. The five painters, one sculptor and textile artist at VCAM present an eclectic mélange of styles. And the landscape-inspired pieces that do appear are so steeped in abstraction, it's difficult to call some of them landscapes. Rather, land is merely a point of departure, or just a backdrop.

Peter Fried illustrates a transgression on the landscape with his "I-89 North, Large." The 36-by-40 inch oil presents viewers with a dreary bend of I-89 veering off to the right, as seen from a driver's vantage point. Fried unleashed a barrage of paint applications, splashing and slashing dark lines and drips over the highway's steely gray. Two dots of warm color - an orange spot near the horizon and a red one at lower right - offset the tyranny of the gray.

Fried's oil-on-board "Adams Street 1" is somewhat calmer. The 26-by-32-inch cityscape focuses on the corner of Adams and St. Paul streets in Burling -ton, as seen from an upper-floor apartment. The painting depicts a gloomy winter day, but Fried's variations of line in rendering the crown of a foreground tree make the scene memorable even without chromatic fireworks.

The 29-by-29-inch painting "Amelia" by Carol Norton portrays the interior vortex of a cyclone spinning deeply into the picture plane. Like Fried, Norton uses a palette of limited hues and an unlimited range of values. The grays of storms and tornados dominate her canvasses, but dabs of color punctuate them.

Perhaps the cyclone in "Amelia" suggests a theory about the fate of aviatrix Amelia Earhart, who disappeared in 1937. The title of "Bonnie & Clyde," also 29-by-29 inches, is less ambiguous. The work is another stormy gray oil. Its clouds churn like those painted by British Romantic-era master J.W.M. Turner. Two small tornados spin in the lower right corner.

Julie A. Davis produces more traditional, sunny, colorful landscapes, perhaps inspired by Cézanne's landscapes of Provence. Just as Mont Sainte-Victoire was a favorite subject of the 19th-century French painter, Mt. Philo is apparently a favorite of Davis' - the modest mountain appears in a series of 14-by-14-inch oils.

Surprising juxtapositions of color describe Vermont's forests and hills in both "Mt. Philo #8" and the oil-on-board "Raining," which is also a Mt. Philo view. Davis constructs harmonies from purples and greens, heightening local color without being a slave to realism. And her purposeful, deliberate brushwork doesn't miss a beat while defining mass.

In "Raining," Davis varies paint intensity, contrasting an impastoed meadow with the vertical grain of the panel she worked on. Relentlessly vertical lines rippling over the painting's surface effectively mimic sheets of rain.

Storminess is a recurring theme among the works presented here. Sculptor Bruce Hathaway's "Storm Above, Fire Below," a flat, wall-mounted piece in three sections, depicts fire and storm symbolically rather than literally. He fashions his pieces from delicately curved rods of stainless steel that are loosely woven together. At the top of the roughly 8-foot-tall, pyramidal "Storm Above, Fire Below," a round shape of concentric circles echoes the vortex appearing in Norton's "Amelia." Hathaway's hurricane spins above two highly abstract flames, positioned at left and right.

Other Hathaway pieces in the show are freestanding and often gently curved, as though made of woven weeping-willow branches rather than burnished steel.

Landscape means different things to different people, depending in part on what they value about it. Some artists, as exemplified by the exhibitors of "Land," esteem imaginary vistas above all others.