EXHIBIT: Elaine Parker, mixed-media works of Antarctica; Melanie Phelps, paintings; Cynthia Ross, bamboo wall constructions; and Ellis Jacobson, sculpted faces. Artpath Gallery, Burlington. Through August.
ARTWORK: "Penguin's Tale" by Elaine Parker
An excellent show of paintings, sculpture and constructions graces the Artpath Gallery at Burlington's Waterfront this summer. While the collections of all four exhibiting artists are interesting, one body of work is particularly cool -- literally. "Landscapes of Antarctica," by Elaine Parker, displays a unique ecological aesthetic. A mixed-media artist, she lived on Ross Island in Antarctica between 1998 and 2001. The other two-dimensional artist is Melanie Phelps, whose unusual acrylic landscapes look skyward. The two 3-D artists are gallery founder Ellis Jacobson and construction artist Cynthia Ross.
Ross is no relation to the Antarctic island Ross, and there is nothing cold about her elegant, geometric bamboo wall constructions and one watercolor. Her forms are based on the five classic Platonic solids, considered the geometric building blocks of life.
Ross' "Segments from Meditation Field" is a sprawling matrix of bamboo sticks, each of which is about 2 feet long. As the artist states, it was "originally assembled in three dimensions to create a meditation chamber in the dodecahedral volume." Another piece suggests her interest in geometry is primarily spiritual. A watercolor, "Yantra, Evolution/Involution of the Cosmos," has a red, six-sided star shape in the center and eight radiating geometric forms around it. Yantra come from the Hindu tantric tradition and are essentially tools for meditation.
On a more earthly plane, Jacobson's giant, cartoonish faces have received international acclaim. His four pieces in this show are all conjoined faces. The smallest is the rather sweet "Soul Mates" -- a kissing Caucasian couple mounted a board. The largest is the 4-foot-wide "Wholly War" giant. Jacobson's rendition of two male faces angrily butting heads is as formally sophisticated as it is emotionally charged.
Melanie Phelps aptly calls her acrylics "cloudscapes." "Blue to Orange," however, isn't actually cloudy. It's a vibrant vertical canvas in which the sky's hues are a bright orange near the horizon and a deep indigo at top. At upper right is a pale crescent. In a typical dawn the moon would be in the west, while in a typical sunset it would be in the east, so perhaps the crescent shape is a solar eclipse? Regardless of astronomical correctness, Phelps' brushwork is adroitly smooth, her hues nicely modulated.
Phelps' "Thirteen" features a group of 13 puffy clouds receding into space, again at the moment between between night and day. She is a strong landscapist of luminous skies hanging above tenebrous hills. In "Thirteen" the clouds and sky are pale green, vermilion and orange.
Parker's mixed-media paintings are created with a sparing use of paint and a utilitarian approach to drawing media -- specifically pencil, pastel, conte crayon, ink and probably more. She seems to use whatever works. Her delicate lines reflect the fragility of the polar environment.
Subtle texts in cursive appear on Parker's series, "Emperor Penguins #1, #2, #3," that explain and extol the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 and subsequent protocols. The naturalistic penguins on white backgrounds are grouped on 7-foot-long horizontal panels, definitely looking like sovereigns of the South Pole. An untitled 7-foot-tall triptych of panels has more obvious texts, including a penguin plea: "We beg you to do anything you must to protect us. Thanks." Parker's handwriting is unself-consciously calligraphic; the scale of her penguins is nearly life-sized.
Other pieces by Parker are more "traditional landscapes," if the term can be applied to a place where painting en plein air would be most uncomfortable. "Ski to Castle Rock" shows a cross-country ski course, laid out beside flags that recede toward a mountain. "Penguin's Tale" has a human in the foreground shadowing a perfectly content emperor penguin, which seems to be strolling obliviously beneath a magnificent sky. The calm verticals of man and bird contrast with the swift diagonals of shadow and cloud.
Penguins make particularly refreshing subject matter when most summer exhibits are bursting with flowers, boats, beaches and balloons. In fact, all four segments of this show are pretty cool.