EXHIBIT: Jeff Schneiderman & Sarah Russell: I & Thou: Conversations with the Landscape, photographs and pottery, respectively. Art on Main, Bristol. Through November 19.
ARTWORK:"Lighthouse Lens I" by Jeff Schneiderman
En route to Art on Main in Bristol, you're likely to see plenty of pastoral, picture-postcard scenes. But that's not what awaits viewers to the gallery's current featured show, entitled "I & Thou: Conversations with the Landscape." Photographer Jeff Schneiderman and ceramist Sarah Russell are more inventive and comfortably conversant with abstraction and pure color than the word "landscape" would suggest. As the show's subtitle indicates, both artists are inspired by the natural world, but it's the combination of inspiration and technical mastery that makes both collections so memorable.
Montpelier-based Russell wrote in her artist's statement: "A potter evolves an intimate understanding of the interplay among the raw elements of nature - of fire, water, earth and air - and is constantly experimenting with them in a quest for their perfect balance." That quest is technical, but it's also spiritual. In her description of throwing pots, Russell adds, "A meditation becomes a tangible object." This artisan's works are functional as well as decorative. Her painterly sensibilities enhance traditional coffee cups, teapots, plates and platters.
Russell has invented an engaging tree motif in which the spreading branches of a delicate, leafless deciduous tree are defined by negative space. Rather than painting the subject on, she glazes the areas around the tree. A 16-inch thrown platter most clearly illustrates the spontaneity and confidence with which Russell executes this design.
Other pieces have bands of color along their edges, and in creating them Russell has demonstrated her keen understanding of the flow of glazes. On one 17-inch platter, an abstract wreath of indigo and brown glazes encircles the edge in a wide, fluid swath. Russell's ground - the rest of the platter - is a roughly textured, sandy-tan expanse. An 18-inch platter with a less symmetrical arched design is painted in layers over a dark-brown glaze. It highlights richly commingled warm, jewel-like hues.
Just as superb glazes define Russell's ceramics, so Schneiderman's images are informed by his attention to composition. In the 11-by-14-inch "Lighthouse Lens I," a kaleidoscopic panoply of hues radiates ripples of light, like circles emanating from a pebble dropped in a pond. The bands of reflection are of variable widths, breaking the symmetry just enough to keep it from becoming oppressive.
The Williston photographer is equally enamored of patterning in works that are virtually monochromatic. "Frost, Williston, VT" presents fern-like fans of rime on a silvery window pane. Juts and curls intertwine in lacy rhythms. Values are darker in the depths of the picture plane, while lighter whites run along the lower edge of this vertical composition.
"Feather, Turkey Feather" is silvery gray but a totally different sort of image. It's a magnified shot of a feather with fine, sharp fringe lines emanating from a spinal quill to the left of the picture's central axis. The fine lines more resemble the detail of a contemporary skyscraper façade than a humble turkey feather.
Schneiderman's knack for transformation also makes his dramatically lit view of red sandstone in "Canyon Fire, Bryce Canyon, UT" seem like flames, or towers of shooting lava. The shot was taken at night, so brighter colors are layered over a dark background, highlighting the mysterious geology of the canyon.
Art on Main is a community-oriented gallery that does have plenty of more mainstream landscapes in its inventory - ideal for the upcoming holiday shopping season. But with "I & Thou," the gallery offers up an aesthetic that transcends the decorative.