EXHIBIT: Jessica Hatheway & Sandra Berbeco: "Entropy and Confabulation," mixed-media paintings. 215 College Street Artists' Cooperative Gallery, Burlington. Through November 26.
ARTWORK:"Fort Hope" by Jessica Hatheway
The pair of one-person shows at Burlington's 215 College Street Artists' Cooperative Gallery by painters Jessica Hatheway and Sandra Berbeco is entitled "Entropy and Confabulation." The exhibit is more concerned with beautiful colors and lively textures than with the nouns used in its title, however. While the words can be summarily dismissed, the paintings shouldn't be. Both collections are highly satisfying on several nonverbal levels.
Burlington artist Jessica Hatheway uses maps as a medium. By applying glazed colors and textural passages over two-dimensional diagrams of places, she reveals associative layers of visual information that transcend particular locales. Her artist's statement makes an additional point: "I started painting on maps because I liked the contrast of the linearity of the map embedded in a less rigid, expressionistic interpretation of space."
Small works dominate the show. As evidenced in the 12-by-12-inch "Fort Hope," textures seem to loom larger as dimensions grow smaller. A plastic needlepoint grid embedded in "Fort Hope" echoes miniature lines of longitude and latitude. Hatheway's image is almost nuclear, as a great orange cloud hangs over a blue-green field. The underlying map of a place called Fort Hope is barely discernible through her welter of blended hues and surface shadows.
Hatheway includes series among her 18 pieces. "World Views Triptych" is the largest, consisting of three vertical 18-by-42-inch panels. Each includes a circular lens magnifying a section of map; the lens seems to float like a planet in Hatheway's panoramic night sky. The selected places - Iraq, Korea and the United States - are distant from one another, but share "a common human experience represented by the single landscape spanning the three panels," Hatheway writes. The smallness of Earth within the vastness of the cosmos is a recurring theme.
"Temagami Polytych" is a vertically arranged group of four 4-by-11.5-inch green, indigo and russet abstractions that resemble a satellite view of broad rivers and lakes in northern Ontario's Temagami region. Its details flow together around a riparian-like diagonal that crosses the composition from upper right to lower left.
Shelburne artist Sandra Berbeco notes in her statement: "My use of color in many of these paintings is a confabulation of what there is and what I experienced beyond the reality of the scene." The obscure word "confabulation" is playful and correctly used, but more telling is Berbeco's direct and poetic confession to painting "vast landscapes done with few small gestures."
"Mist in the Pathway" is a 4-by-7-inch panel inset into a neo-Baroque frame, focusing attention on the contrast between the frame's forced elegance and the painting's nonchalant spontaneity. Although her surfaces are much less layered than are Hathaway's, Berbeco's paintings reflect supreme confidence in the materials. The "few small gestures" approach leads to pieces that at first seem underworked - and indeed, several could have been dashed off in a matter of minutes. But Berbeco's sparse paint handling can also be seen as a way of shunning superfluous details.
"Mist in the Pathway" is just a blur of local color, viridian and cerulean blue, in which line plays no part. A painting of the same scale and framing style, entitled "Reflection," is even more minimal. Its subject is a haze of black charcoal. The haze diffusely hovers over both halves of a horizon, bisecting a field of white acrylic. Thread-thin ridges, smears and scratchy lines seem incongruous in the frame, but the frame is integral to contextualizing the work as a landscape.
Other Berbeco paintings are more purely decorative. The 12-by-12-inch "Stand of Trees" is an unframed, 1.5-inch-deep expressionistic row of bold yet soft-edged forms. A forest of simplified trees, illuminated from the lower right corner of the picture plane, stands in front of a bright crimson horizon under a naturalistic, cloudy blue sky. It has an illustrative character very different from that of Berbeco's abstractions.
The great mid-20th-century painter and teacher Hans Hofmann succinctly wrote, "Painters must speak through paint, not through words." Case in point: "Entropy and Confabulation" is a great painting show despite its silly title.