EXHIBIT: "New Paintings," a group show in multiple media by seven Vermont artists. Maltex Building, Burlington. Through March.
ARTWORK "Untitled 3" by Sara Katz
Burlington's Maltex Building is a very old venue. The 40,000-square-foot former cereal factory was built just before the turn of the 20th century. Since the early 1990s, it has been the focal point of the South End Art Hop. For the next three months, it belongs to Burlington City Arts. In a departure from previous exhibitions, BCA has curated a strong group show in the building's hallways, from the basement to the third floor. Featured artists include printmaker Janet Biehl, photographer Mary Johnson and five painters: Kit Donnelly, Sara Katz, Lynda McIntyre, Ayn Baldwin Riehle and Lynn Rupe.
The 4-by-4-foot abstract landscapes of oil painter Katz are some of the most dramatic canvasses in the show. Her vast flatland in "Untitled 3" is simply a yellow-green landscape with a low horizon, and an empty highway disappearing into a vanishing point at the composition's left. Her brushwork alternates between fairly smooth passages and sharply defined impasto details, such as shrinking fence posts.
In contrast, McIntyre's large-scale stain painting, "Surfacing Toward the Light -- Coming Up for Air," is devoid of brushwork. She describes the materials of the nearly paisley patchwork of turquoise and pale-green hues as "poured acrylic and metal on canvas." Ruddy, rusty-brown amoeba shapes, perhaps applied as powder, are probably the "metal" referred to. The dark shapes seem to float above the submerged viewpoint of the canvasses, as leaves fallen into water.
McIntyre's six watercolors with acrylic on paper, from her "Arid Hills Series," are equally intriguing. "Midday Sun" captures the high ridgeline of a wrinkled mountainside in a yellow and orange desert. The mountain is fiery under an almost transparent, cerulean-blue sky. "Against a Sheer Cliff," from the same series," is drenched with intensely saturated scarlet, applied in long, diagonal brushstrokes. A counterpoised, slanted blue line bisects the diagonal strokes, and several wide, shadowy verticals add depth to the otherwise shallow space.
Realist watercolors by Riehle and nonobjective watercolor abstractions from Donnelly bookend the conceptual spectrum. Riehle's "Fern with Blue" portrays late-season ferns with patches of golden brown tinting leaf tips, complemented by a blue-green undergrowth on the forest floor. Donnelly's organic yet geometric shapes in "Midnight Wanderings" are in opaque layers, perhaps indicating an additional use of gouache.
Rupe produced a highly successful collection of monumental, acrylic cityscapes in 2003, but her works in this exhibition are more modest. Her interest in patterning remains, however; both the geometric abstractions and two paintings on paper of lily pads are essentially reduced to colorful patterns. Rupe has also included four adept monotypes.
Biehl and photographer Johnson are highly skilled artists in their respective media, but the venue doesn't necessarily suit their pieces. Biehl's six traditional etchings of Burlington architecture seem swallowed up by the high, whitewashed-brick walls of the Maltex. Fortunately, a larger collection of 17 prints can also be seen in the closer confines of the Wing Building this month.
Johnson's seven silver gelatin prints meet a similar fate on the Maltex walls, but they are worth seeking out. Her "Form Interpretations" have been halved and reconstructed into Rorschach-like images. The undulating, black-and-gray rhythms of her natural shapes display unexpected twists and turns.
As the Maltex Building embarks on its third useful century, let's hope the old industrial space continues to dish out art, rather than Maypo.