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The Mystery Within

Art Review


Published September 14, 2005 at 4:00 a.m.

EXHIBIT:"New Work," oil paintings and monotypes by Beth Pearson. Doll-Anstadt Gallery, Burlington. Through September.

ARTWORK: "World" by Beth Pearson

Beth Pearson's third solo exhibition at the Doll-Anstadt Gallery is easily the strongest show of art in downtown Burlington this month. It's not surprising to find such good work at the DA; what's remarkable is how the Vergennes artist continues to evolve within her firmly established, abstract aesthetic. While lesser artists might paddle around aimlessly, waiting to catch the next new wave in art, Pearson swims in deeper waters. Her brand of abstraction is poetic, unassuming and organic.

This new show consists of three large-scale paintings and 18 monoprints. Pearson's oils on canvas are technically impeccable. Tangled azure swirls buried along the left side of "Pattern and Flow" seem to sink into the painting's turquoise field. Its central form is an oval that seems to slowly roll off the right edge of the composition. Pearson etches lines into her surfaces, and then uses several glaze layers to submerge those lines beneath luscious colors. "Pattern and Flow" is an almost square canvas with a simple yet effective color harmony of rusty sienna and painterly blue; the glazes have a richness that is generally associated with ceramics.

"World" is a much brighter painting with varied intensity and saturation of color. The entire abstract composition, residing in a deep blue semicircle, seems to have a rocking chair's movement. Pearson employs a wide array of layering techniques; here smaller forms appear within larger ones, and light hues, such as icy whites, are scumbled over earthy, dark ones.

The majority of Pearson's prints are quite small, generally about 8 inches square. One of her favorite mixed-media approaches is coloring monotypes with gouache. The square of "Four Rooms" is divided into four smaller squares that float in a black field. Large, amoeba-like forms inhabit each "room."

"Before the Ladder Disappears" contains one of Pearson's few literal images. In a monochromatic, pale-green abstract landscape, a rickety "ladder" made of fine lines leans against the left edge of the picture. The ladder stands on a roughly scratched cradle of other rhythmic lines. It may be a subtle reference to the biblical Jacob's ladder, or Pearson has simply described an archetypal form. Either way, this piece has fewer physical layers than her other paintings, but has more accessible layers of meaning.

Pearson seems to be profoundly influenced by Paul Klee. Her small prints "Stained Glass" and "Night Picnic" contain multicolored checkerboard patterns, delicate meandering lines and large dots that glow like stars -- all reminiscent of the Swiss artist's work.

Checkerboard patterns often represented brick walls in Klee's iconography. Pearson's use of a similar design element has a more translucent presence. Her checkerboard in the lower half of "Stained Glass" consists of primary colors plus white, but some of the squares are also left unfilled, as if "clear." A long, horizontal line, curled at one end like an open scroll, appears above the squares; an orange dot illuminates the upper left.

In 1920, Klee referred to abstraction as "art in the highest circle." Within that circle, he wrote, "an ultimate mystery lurks behind the mystery, and the wretched light of the intellect is of no avail."

Intellects are no more illuminated 85 years later. Figuration may have returned to prominence in the art world, but abstraction remains as valid today as it was throughout much of the 20th century. Pearson's mysterious paintings and prints demonstrate why.