EXHIBIT: "Winter Exhibition," a group show of 13 local artists. Gallerie @ Opaline, Burlington. Through March.
ARTWORK: "Ladders and Bridges 6" by Josh Neilson.
The underground Gallerie @ Opaline is big; with multiple chambers and 15-foot ceilings in some areas, the area it represents seems as large as the rest of Burlington's commercial galleries combined. The space has nevertheless managed to cover its walls quite well in recent years. Its current show, entitled "Winter Exhibition," does so with 13 Vermont artists, and includes photographs, prints and paintings, lamps, constructions and teapots.
Josh Neilson's "Ladders or Bridges" series consists of white canvases with geometric construction elements growing off of them. In "Ladders or Bridges #5," the construction bends downward onto the floor like a pachyderm's trunk. In "Ladders or Bridges #6," it's wrapping around the upper left corner of the canvas.
Neilson also presents two small, more traditional abstract paintings in the show, "Altered Experiments" #3 and #6. If they really are experiments, these works are successful in the ways they examine patterning, brushwork and value. The two paintings seem loosely related to Hokusai prints of waves, cherry blossoms and mountains.
Opaline curator Alex Dostie reluctantly placed two of his own large-scale paintings in the exhibition: "The Winter Painting" and "Murder Scene From Above." Unlike the late David Millstone, whose Millstone Gallery occupied this space in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Dostie is concerned about perceived conflict of interest and doesn't think curators should showcase their own work. Nevertheless, the scale of his two large pieces, both about 5 by 6 feet, add a nice dimension to show.
Dostie's images are interesting as well. "The Winter Painting" is like a giant, see-through snowflake, falling in a negative space of turquoise Latex paint. The interior of the flake exposes a colorful abstraction. In "Murder Scene From Above," a crumpled red figure appears in the lower left of a white field. Did Dostie actually witness such a death in the snow, or is it simply a graphic representation of red forms on white, with a title meant to tease? Either way, it's intriguing.
Ray Barnes' "History of the World" is another large-scale piece; his 7-foot-long canvas reads like a smaller version of Jose Clemente Orozco's murals at Dartmouth College. Orozco portrayed the European conquest and settlement of North America; Barnes has an even bigger vision. If his painting doesn't quite live up to its name, there are at least some nice passages of oil painting among the cows, clouds and figures.
Abby Manock's title "Arch" may be an abbreviation of "architecture." Her work on two long, scroll-like sheets of heavy paper, curled at the bottoms, comprise architectonic drawings of vertical forms connected to horizontal structures below. One drawing is a series of built-up cubes; the other is made of hexagonal forms.
Cindy Chittenden's "Boy on a Horse" and "Milady" are black-and-white photos taken in the Dominican Republic. She has a good eye for composition, and the smile on the little girl in "Milady" suggests that Chittenden can make her subjects feel at ease. A descendant of Vermont's first governor, Thomas Chittenden, she is one of five young artists in this show who were raised in the Colchester area.
As for the "craft" pieces in the show, Jeremy Ayers' five teapots are nicely designed but nearly identical. Each is cream-colored with a sort of corduroy texture, and a dark knob on the lid.
The five quirky table lamps by Kristen L'Esperance are also functional, with similar shades but differing bases. One of them has a Miro-esque ceramic base glazed like bright-red Fiestaware. Another lamp has a two-piece base with a clear measuring beaker below and a contemporary, ceramic upper portion in orange and green. L'Esperance is also a painter, represented locally by the Doll-Anstadt Gallery.
The Gallerie @ Opaline's "Winter Exhibition" may be evidence of a generational shift in the Burlington art scene, and curator Dostie is making the connections.