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Creative Place

Art Review


Published July 27, 2005 at 4:00 a.m.

EXHIBIT: "Sense of Another Place: Imagination, Memory, Desire," a group show in multiple media. West Branch Gallery & Sculpture Park, Stowe. Through September 1.

ARTWORK: Untitled sculpture by John Matusz

The West Branch Gallery & Sculpture Park in Stowe has a unique identity among the art oases scattered around Vermont. It possesses a singular sense of place, due to the abundant bushes, rushing stream and mature trees that surround the sculpture park. The gallery itself, adjoining the studio of sculptor Chris Curtis, is an elegantly curated, well-lit space.

But the idea of "place" doesn't necessarily refer to a physical locale. The second annual West Branch group show, entitled "Sense of Another Place: Imagination, Memory, Desire," features 32 artists showing indoors and out; some are from Vermont, some hailing from beyond our borders. Curator Kelly Liatsos asked the participating artists to provide a brief written statement along with art documenting a personally significant notion of place.

Several artists replied with quotations. Carl Jung's comment, "Don't just show your shadow, own it," is posted beside figurative relief sculptures that are molded from screens by Burlington artist Peter R. Smith. Shadows play a crucial role in Smith's works, practically adding flesh to his sheer screen dancers and nudes. He has been working with fine-mesh steel screen for the last several years, and in this show debuts figures made from copper screen. Though a less malleable material, it will take on a nice patina in years to come.

Waitsfield abstract painter Sally Sweetland also utilized a quote to describe her take on place -- the verses of "It Felt Love" by 14th-century Sufi poet Hafiz. The poem begins with: "How did the rose ever open its heart / and give to this world all its beauty?" Sweetland's opulent oils would make the old Persian smile. In "Archaeology of a Picnic," lush textures are rendered with lines of turquoise and patches of orange, broken into a loose field of squares that run diagonally to the corners of the canvas. The work has layers of brilliant color, just as a garden in paradise might.

Painter and printmaker Carol MacDonald writes of her work: "These are internally felt places of healing, hope, trust and imagination." The Colchester artist has developed a personal iconography of ravens and labyrinths. Her "Hope in Dark Times" presents a small raven approaching the entrance of a mystical, megalithic structure. The mixed-media monoprint includes thread and textural passages of colored pencil. Just beyond the imposing gray portal, MacDonald's sky is tinted orange and rose.

John Matusz refers to himself as a "sculptor of the nuclear age," and his sensibilities are different than those of his more metaphysically oriented colleagues. He writes: "I'm in a different place mentally, emotionally and spiritually than the person next to me. I'm also in a different 'place' with my artistic development."

Indeed, Matusz is in two places at once -- with pieces both outdoors and in the gallery. Among his exterior works is a large-scale, untitled construction of black steel that includes squares of granite held aloft by a great circle. His indoor piece, entitled "Pod," contains a chunk of green glass in its upper reaches, surrounded by a sphere made of steel rods, like a symbolic atom.

Marie LaPre Grabon's small figurative constructions, which she calls "dolls," have been making frequent local appearances lately. The gallery-going public may remember her wonderfully fluid, enchanting two-dimensional style before the dolls were "born." If not, LaPre Grabon's contributions to the West Branch show will present a few surprises.

Her reclining female nude, "The Dream," is a large-scale, mixed-media drawing on paper that includes the most vibrant lights and darks possible with charcoal. The work echoes both Matisse and the British sculptor Henry Moore, yet is completely original. Lovely as the dolls are, LaPre Grabon's drawings are sublimely transcendent.

While artists may have interesting things to say, the statements at the West Branch show are also mercifully short. Let's face it -- visual art is a visual experience. The old poetry student adage, "show, don't tell," is especially apropos when it comes to the artspeak that often accompanies contemporary exhibitions. In this case, however, the writings are just right.