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Materials Girl

Art Review


Published July 13, 2005 at 4:00 a.m.

EXHIBIT: Mariel Pitti, encaustic paintings, ceramics and mixed-media constructions. Ice Coast Gallery, Burlington. Through August 28.

ARTWORK: "Hardwired" and "Rewired" by Mariel Pitti

Mariel Pitti earned her BFA from Green Mountain College just four years ago, but her current exhibition at Burlington's Ice Coast Gallery reveals she isn't exactly an "emerging" artist. The versatile Newfane sculptor and painter is presenting fully mature figurative ceramics, abstract encaustics and constructions that include materials salvaged from remodeling her house. She is also atypical by virtue of letting 30 years elapse between high school and her 2001 college graduation.

Pitti's artist statement discloses that her work is rooted in evolution and new applications for used materials. "I notice the potential in all materials, whether discarded or new, as a means to express and mark my journey," she writes. "This phase of my life is about internal restructuring and regeneration as I transition through mid-life." The show at Ice Coast -- two flights up from Leunig's Bistro -- indicates that her journey has been aesthetically fruitful.

A pair of life-sized, upward-looking busts of red earthenware lends the show a curious air of mystery. With bald heads and closed eyes, "Rewired" and "Hardwired" command the space from tall pedestals in the center of the gallery. "Rewired" has slightly more delicate features and appears to be female, yet the strange ceramic beings seem to exist in suspended animation, devoid of specific identities.

Pitti also presents a wall-mounted group of seven smaller, less naturalistic heads, collectively entitled "The Seekers." Several have wide-open eyes, staring into space like ancient Sumerian votive statues. Others have sealed eyelids, as if sleeping or meditating.

A delicate collection of 18 pit-fired vessels, in rounded organic forms reminiscent of sake bottles and other Japanese shapes, demonstrate that Pitti is also a skilled potter. In addition to her vessels and sculptural heads, she has reduced some clay into tile-like slabs and crammed them into a roughly 15-by-48-inch construction. Dubbed "Reconstruction," the piece comprises five vertical compartments packed with the pale, shard-like squares. An adjacent companion piece, entitled "Rebuilding," is made of old wood and gray slate scavenged from Pitti's roof. It illustrates the artist's credo of seeing "the potential in all materials."

So does the "Cut Nail Series," which consists of 8-inch-square encaustics with hand-hewn nails embedded in their wax. The frothy, white surface of "Cut Nails #4" is divided into irregularly sized geometric shapes and has four nails in the upper left. "Cut Nails #3" is layered with warm, salmon-colored fields enlivened by pale-blue patches; its four nails seem to tumble down from the top of the image. The outline of a nail -- incused into the wax surface and then removed -- adds a unique dimensionality to the piece.

Pitti served as a design consultant for the Rutland County Courthouse through the Vermont Arts Council's Art in State Buildings program. She teaches at the Community College of Vermont in the southeast corner of the state, and at her alma mater. She isn't well known in northern Vermont -- but Ice Coast Gallery proprietor Tabbatha Henry may change that with this show. Henry learned about Pitti's work through the Burlington City Arts curatorial services database. It's easy to see why these sculptures, paintings and constructions caught her eye.

A competent ceramicist herself, Henry has a few of her own works on display -- Ice Coast is connected to her studio. Among the pieces is "Portals," a vertical, mixed-media sculpture of porcelain, copper and vellum. It's smaller in scale than Pitti's "Rebuilding" and "Reconstruction," but has nearly identical proportions. This cool confluence shows what can happen when artists put their heads together.