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Outstanding in the Field

Art Review


EXHIBIT: "Vermont Contemporary," a group exhibit by six local artists. Gallery in-the-Field, Brandon. Through November 12.

ARTWORK:"Out Beyond the Barn" by Judith Reilly

Gallery in-the-Field, just off Route 7 in Brandon, is sited on 200 acres of some of Vermont's most beautiful pasture land. A landscaped walkway leads to the intriguingly designed, modified post-and-beam structure, letting visitors know from the first flagstone that this gallery is a cut above other venues. And the interior's cathedral ceiling seems to encourage artists to attain new heights. Or at least to take risks in their works.

Gallery owner and curator Fran Bull -a superb artist in many media herself - noted in an email last week, "I am interested, in general, in art that seeks to push towards an edge, whatever that edge might be." The current show at Gallery in-the-Field, entitled "Vermont Contemporary," meets that standard. Its paintings, prints and sculpture by six prominent Vermont artists - Warren Kimble, Joan Curtis, Liza Myers, Judith Reilly, Patt Cavanagh and Bull - include collections that differ greatly from several of the exhibitors' best-known work.

Liza Myers includes none of her signature naturalistic birds and lily pads in this show. Here her focus is on curvaceous, anthropomorphic ceramic sculpture. Three-foot-tall "Spiraling Madonna with Nest" is alive with inventive forms. The nurturing, brown-painted figure caresses a ceramic nest. "Venus of the Waters" is a more highly abstracted standing figure, adorned with delicately fashioned leaves and flowers.

Textile artist Judith Reilly offered in her artist statement, "I visit reality once in a while, but I have no desire to live there." Among her six pieces is the 4-by-4-foot tapestry "Out Beyond the Barn." This icon of rural identity is constructed from flattened geometric shapes, with contrapuntal passages of straight-line stitching that push Reilly's patterns in unexpected directions. Rounded green floral shapes and puffy clouds in a blue sky are accents that contrast with the angular red planes describing the barn.

Joan Curtis' familiar parti-colored abstractions, intensely saturated with every hue of the rainbow, appear in both 2- and 3-dimensional versions at Gallery in-the-Field. Her sculptures are particularly lively, as the ample gallery space gives them room to dance. The papier-mâché fantasia "A Tale Told by a Tail" is a pedestal piece resting on a box-like form, like a strange potted plant, enriched by tentacles and brightly patterned cacti shapes.

Patt Cavanagh's gray yet energetic oil-stick-on-canvas drawings include a series of six works collectively entitled "Evolution." The abstractions are loosely descriptive of cranial forms, as if Cavanagh is depicting evolving consciousness. Each of the four 11-by-14-inch canvasses comprising Numbers III-VI is a simple drawing wielding just a few fat lines, while Numbers I and II are painterly 15-by-21-inch canvasses with skillfully modulated dimensionality.

Warren Kimble's "Widows of War" series is a far cry from the decorative faux folk art for which the Brandon artist is best known. His statement describes how the series was created after hearing a radio report, in February 2005, about the number of war casualties in Iraq. "As I looked across my studio at the woman's dressmaking form I had recently purchased at an antique shop," he wrote in his artist statement, "I realized it represented to me the women and children left behind (by the loss of a loved one) and their uncertain future."

A 7-foot-long print of 11 black abstract geometric figures, which Kimble printed using a carved rolling pin, seems to portray an assembly line of military death. Kimble's brilliant, dramatic series also includes stenciled and collaged images. The dress form that inspired "Widows of War" was decorated with black floral patterning to transform it into a totemic object of mourning. The somber image is repeated in large-scale prints.

Bull rounds out the exhibition with her copperplate etchings, entitled "Head One" and "Head Two." Both contain a strange profile with musical notes streaming from its mouth and a background of furious mark-making. Her prints are brilliantly made, but are an understated part of this show - an approach that all artist-gallery owners would be wise to emulate.

The artistic climate of Brandon appears to get warmer every year, and Gallery in-the-Field is one of the town's most impressive destinations. Veering off the highway to visit "Vermont Contemporary," on view through November 12, is a venture of artistic discovery.