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Art Review: "20 Years of Art at the Coach Barn," works by 40 regional artists. Shelburne Farms.


Published October 10, 2007 at 7:16 p.m.

"Morning Reflection" by Craig Andrew Mooney
  • "Morning Reflection" by Craig Andrew Mooney

Departing from tradition is an unusual way of celebrating an anniversary, but that's exactly what Shelburne Farms' annual exhibition "Art at the Coach Barn" has done. Whereas its previous shows were juried, the 2007 installment is an invitational, making the 150-piece, all-media exhibition tighter and more coherent. Most of the 40 invited artists are regional, but 14 of them hail from beyond Vermont's borders - including two from England.

Mixed-media painter Danuta Laskowska of London is one of the Brits. "Gift of the Fall" is a seasonally timely, 22-by-22-inch lyrical abstract landscape. Laskowska crafted a scene engulfed in yellow light, with a gray ink wash defining background hills. A house in the foreground is constructed from collaged bits of paper and pastel accents; a similar house is sited more deeply in the picture plane. A few abstract leaves and flowers appear in autumnal reds and orange.

"Tender Dawn," also by Laskowska, employs ink washes to make steeper hills. The 18-by-23-inch mixed-media work includes whimsical green triangles, serving as pines, and broad brushstrokes of raw umber.

The degree of realism a master pastel artist can achieve is always a delight to see, and Montpelier artist Skye Forest is no exception. At first her 26-by-29-inch framed works appear to be monochromatic photographs. "Portent" depicts a cumulus cloud in dark gray-brown, apparently on the verge of becoming a thunderhead. Forest's "Alchemy" is a tenebrous, almost black nighttime landscape of a shoreline receding into the distance. Silver moonlight glows through a ceiling of clouds.

Craig Andrew Mooney of Stowe presents a very different beach scene, drenched in sunlight. The 18-by-42-inch horizontal composition "Endless" captures a sweeping diagonal of sand and surf and an ocean with a distant, slightly misty horizon. Mooney's colors are naturalistic, but his paint handling is gestural and dynamic.

His 20-by-48-inch triptych, "Morning Reflection," features a lone tree beside a body of water; its reflection is repeated across the canvasses. With the image Mooney establishes a simple rhythm, as with musical notes on a staff. His trees at far left and far right push close to the edges of the triptych, creating a compositional tension that contrasts with his loose, diffuse way of painting the trees themselves.

Similarly edgy realism appears in most works in this show. Florida photographer Clyde Butcher reinvents the natural world in his 30-by-39-inch "Dingman's Creek #5." Details in the black-and-white image of rapids surrounded by a forest radiate briskly from a central focal point. Butcher's "Flat Brook" is taken at a similar locale but is calm and placid.

Not everything in the exhibition is two-dimensional. George Sherwood's kinetic sculptures are like upside-down mobiles - standing rather than hanging - made with a few aluminum leaf forms affixed to the ends of silently oscillating rods. The Massachusetts sculptor sited his largest piece, the 6-foot-tall "Wind Orchid #2," in the Coach Barn's inner courtyard. The 40-inch-tall "Wind Orchid #1" is an indoor pedestal piece animated by a discreet fan several feet away.

Enosburg Falls sculptor Alan Sirt creates wood vessels that at first glance resemble ceramics. His dark, rich milk-paint finishes are like matte glazes, and his surfaces have rough textures, like an elephant's skin. "Square Hollow Bowl with Rectangle Pattern" is a 9-by-9-inch concave form with a circular depression 4 inches in diameter at its center. In contrast to other surfaces, the hole is smooth. "Square Platter with Diamond Pattern" is a 14-by-14-by-3-inch cherrywood box with a 5-inch-diameter central hole. Sirt's forms exemplify exceptional three-dimensional design. He rethinks the use of hardwood finishes and vessel forms to create unique utilitarian objects.

"Art at the Coach Barn" is on view through October 21. It's a great month to discover, or rediscover, Shelburne Farms.