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Stairway to Seven

Art Review


Published January 10, 2007 at 5:00 a.m.


EXHIBIT: Maltex Group Show: sculpture, paintings, photographs and works on paper by seven local artists. Maltex Building, Burlington. Through March.

ARTWORK:"Brandon" by Kristina Drobn

The postindustrial Maltex Building on Pine Street is Burlington's most spacious visual-art venue. In recent years, the hallways on all four floors of the 45,000-square-foot former home of Maypo cereal have provided essential viewing in the local art scene. Building owner Rick Davis and Jessica Dyer of the Burlington City Arts Corporate Arts Loans Project jointly curated the collection currently featured on the lower three floors. The paintings, photography and sculpture by seven area artists make for a lively winter show, on view through March.

The strongest pieces on the ground floor are photographs from Kristina Drobny's "Failed" series. Her lucid artist's statement reveals, "All of the images in this series . . . highlight my futile efforts to be what I cannot." Though the photos include self-portraits, Drobny stresses that they are "in no way intended to be Cindy Shermanesque" - a reference to the renowned contemporary photographer whose sole subject is herself in different guises. Instead, the Burlington artist comments on "labels we apply to ourselves to create meaning in our lives." To that end she has crafted masterful compositions, driven by a particularly astute use of color.

Drobny's photographs are staged yet seem quite natural. "Brandon" portrays a photographer by his tripod at the end of a long hallway, engrossed in an absurd activity that he apparently intends to preserve on film. Narrative aside, it's an almost baroque composition, with the distant figure more illuminated than foreground details. The manipulation of lights and darks eerily recalls "Las Meninas (Maids of Honor)" by the 17th-century painter Diego Velázquez. Drobny, who received her MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design in May 2005, appears to be equally well informed by art history and contemporary sensibilities.

Two other capable photographers appear at the Maltex: Marlboro-based Larry Broder and Jim Rathmell of Essex Junction. Broder's wildlife photography is a result of his world travels - this show offers portraits of polar bears in the Canadian north and a puma that eyes Broder with a distinct look of hunger. These are well-composed documentary pieces. Broder's 22-by-22-inch "Trees in Fog," by contrast, is purely fine art. Two stately rows of deciduous trees line a receding roadway, their canopies meeting to form a tunnel. Distant fog renders the background completely white.

Rathmell's photograph "Driftledge Snow" depicts a typical brick farmhouse with a roof blanketed in snow. Christmas wreaths adorn two doors, one in front and the other on a porch to the right, the only circular elements among rectangular architectural details. Though the scene is mundane, Rathmell's affinity for contrasting shapes and muted tonalities makes it engaging. His "Camel's Hump Moon" is more ethereal, as the lunar disk dangles over the mountain crest to punctuate an indigo sky.

The power of Jane Horner's large-scale canvasses is amplified by the narrowness of the Maltex Building's halls. At roughly 96 by 48 inches, the Burlington artist's "Dreaming, I Fly . . ." carries viewers aloft, metaphorically speaking, with purposeful, elegant brushwork and a soothing color harmony of deep blues, layers of white on white, and calm, warm salmon. The space puts onlookers close to the painting by necessity, so its surface fills the field of vision.

"Parallel Universes" is a smaller-scale piece. The 24-by-48-inch vertical composition employs a harmony similar to that of Horner's larger painting. But here she has incised the surface with short parallel lines in groups of four, like chisel marks on an unfinished Michelangelo sculpture. The rhythmic patterns dance in and out of Horner's layers of scumbled color.

Two more painters, Jill Madden and Marina Epstein, and sculptor H. Keith Wagner complete this exhibition. On the fourth floor of the Maltex, selections from the South End Area Arts and Business Association's Portfolio Project - a fundraiser comprising works on paper - are worth the additional climb.