EXHIBIT: "Art of Achievement," a group exhibit honoring 27 Vermont artists. T.W. Wood Gallery, Montpelier. Through April 17. Also at Gallerie@Opaline, Burlington, April 22 - May 31.
ARTWORK: "Vermont Sunset Postcard" by Frank Hewitt
Since 1964, the Vermont Arts Council has done its part to establish the Green Mountain State's artsy reputation. The VAC's programs are diverse, benefiting communities and organizations as well as individual artists. Its touring exhibition specifically honors 27 Vermont visual artists, living and late, who have received the council's highest accolades: the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, Walter Cerf Awards for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, and Citations of Merit, which are given to visual artists for "distinguished service."
"Art of Achievement" is currently installed at the T.W. Wood Gallery in Montpelier and will travel to Burlington's Gallerie@Opaline later this month.
In a nice gesture of egalitarianism, specific awards are not attached to the individual art works. A painting by someone who provided a distinguished service might be exhibited alongside one by an artist who has achieved national or international stature. That may explain why the quality varies somewhat.
Although she is better known as a sculptor, Judith Brown (1932-1992) is represented here by "Dancer Trio with Draping," a 20-by-27.5-inch ink-and-watercolor work on paper. Its fluid details are akin to those in her monumental scrap-metal series of figures, the "Lamentations Group," which have appeared at the University of Vermont, the Flynndog and other venues. Brown's three watercolor dancers are highly gestural and almost ghostlike. Crimson washes add life to the figures' black-ink lines of varied weights.
Another of Vermont's best sculptors, Kate Pond, is represented by her 2-by-3-by-4-foot steel abstraction "From the Heart." The work's sweeping geometric shapes create a form that seems to float just above the floor.
Nonobjective abstractions appear among the show's paintings as well. "Vermont Sunset Postcard," a painting on paper by former UVM art professor Frank Hewitt (1936-1992), unifies geometric passages with splashy stain-painted elements. Its hues are translucent in some areas, while elsewhere the paper is left raw. The forms in Robert McBride's "Looking Towards Morandi 2" seem somewhat more organic, but the paintings' brighter, flatter colors reflect the intensity of Pop Art.
The oil-on-canvas "Picnic" by Francis Colburn (1909-1984) depicts a family picnicking beside a lake. In a sophisticated play with space, Colburn created squares within the square of the picture plane. Graphic works by Luigi Lucioni (1900-1988) and Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) also represent earlier generations of Vermont artists. George Tooker's lithograph "Mirror" is a surreal, 20-by-16-inch vanitas image of a young woman with a skull looking over her shoulder.
Not surprisingly, "Art of Achievement" also includes pieces by contemporary printmakers Mary Azarian and Sabra Field. The latter's 2003 woodcut "Church Interior" is of a beautifully described Ionian colonnade within a round church.
Since at least the 1960s, Vermont ceramists have been in the forefront of their field. Malcolm Wright's "Shino Bowl" is a delicate stoneware bowl, 15-and-a-half inches in diameter, with leaf patterns in its beige glaze. Karen Karnes' untitled, salt-glazed stoneware vessels share Wright's Japanese-inspired aesthetics.
It could be argued that artistic stature has as much to do with luck and persistence as originality. Either way, all these artists have made valuable contributions to the state. In a different way, so has former Vermont Governor Phil Hoff. Elected in 1964, Hoff played a pivotal role in creating Vermont's arts council; accordingly, when "Art of Achievement" travels to Burlington on April 22, there will be a dinner in his honor at the restaurant Opaline, as well as a sneak peek at the artworks downstairs.