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In the Abstract

Art Review


Published June 1, 2005 at 4:00 a.m.

EXHIBIT: "Escaping the Literal," abstract paintings, sculptures and digital works by more than 30 local artists. Main Gallery, Studio Place Arts, Barre. Through June 18.

ARTWORK: "Wrap" by Torin Porter

The abstract sculptor Constantin Brancusi considered himself a realist and wrote: "The people who call my work 'abstract' are imbeciles; that which they call 'abstract' is the purest realism whose reality is not represented by exterior form but by the idea behind it, the essence of the work." At least a few of the 30-plus Vermont artists now showing at Studio Place Arts might express similar sentiments. In many cases, abstraction is about realities hidden beneath objective form. In others, abstract artists have simply invented new realities.

"String Theory," by Johnson artist Lucinda Mason, is a large-scale, mixed-media oil of the hidden-realities type. Its thin white lines and red forms floating in a black field resemble graphic representations of the six-dimensional universe envisioned by theoretical physics. Dots are strung along the loopy lines, like points on a continuum.

Harriet Woods' acrylics "Tsunami #1" and "Tsunami #2" are less naturalistic than "String Theory." The Marsh-field painter's vibrant abstract expressionist visions capture a tsunami's froth and chaos. Woods floods her canvasses with agitated brushwork in earth tones and bright green.

Other paintings in "Escaping the Literal" have completely liberated themselves from two dimensionality. From a distance, "Envelop," by Carleen Zimbalatti of East Calais, looks like two adjoining, swirled forms on a red square. But up close you'll notice that the square is painted directly onto the gallery wall, and the swirls are tightly coiled twine. Tinka Theresa Martell of Fairfax also transcends the traditional boundaries of painting. Her "Untitled II" is an organically formed vertical oil on wood. The piece's white-and-blue surface is too painterly to qualify as simply a wall-mounted sculpture. It's painterly, therefore a painting.

In contrast, Burlington artist Jamey May's flatter "Untitled I, II & III" is clearly a wall-mounted sculpture. Using the architectonic materials of glass and wood, it combines three geometric shapes that add up to being a circle within a square. The piece is purely sculptural and transparent rather than colorful.

Several of the in-the-round sculptures are particularly strong. Torin Porter of Glover fashioned surrealistic 3-dimensional forms which appear to have sprung from a Roberto Matta mural. "Wrap" seems to be a wooden pillow with spikes attached by giant rubber bands. His "Origine" is a large wooden ball with long stems inserted into it. Each has a giant bud at its end.

"Enough With the Small" by Jake Rifkin of Burlington is a three-foot-high steel wirework on a pedestal, presenting vertical movement in three stages. The lowest tier is a bundle, the middle part has wire shaped into a tunnel, and the upper part is a more open space. At least that's one interpretation of the piece. A dozen different viewers might see it a dozen different ways, which is one reason "Enough With the Small" is so strong.

Lilian Aye's titles, "Caged" and "Stairs," are a little more closely related to the compositions they name. The North Ferrisburgh artist uses recycled metal in two pedestal pieces. "Caged" seems to be a spike encircled by a fat automotive spring, while "Stairs" is a roller coaster of stair shapes.

SPA guest curator Maggie Neale, a Montpelier painter, did an outstanding job on the show. In her curatorial statement, she prepares viewers for its approach by suggesting, "Abstract art is more about experimenting with relationships in color and form than actually representing content."

Brancusi and other first-generation abstractionists would probably have taken it one step further. They would have asserted that color and form are content enough, and ultimately more meaningful than any representational trifle.