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Wired and Windblown

Art Review: Carol Norton: "Cyclone!: The Colors of Iowa From A to Z," oils on canvas; and Peter Robinson-Smith: Wire mesh sculpture. Flynndog, Burlington. Through February.


Published January 23, 2008 at 12:07 p.m.

"Horse to Canter" by Peter Robinson-Smith
  • "Horse to Canter" by Peter Robinson-Smith

The Flynndog is a long, bright, wide hallway gallery leading to the Outer Space Café, set in an old industrial building at 208 Flynn Avenue in Burlington. Now through February, it hosts two very different shows, one of painting and the other of sculpture. Carol Norton's series of 26 dynamic oils, entitled "Cyclone!: The Colors of Iowa From A to Z," hangs along the east wall, and about 40 figurative wire mesh sculptures by Peter Robinson-Smith appear on the west. He has also installed a pony-sized horse sculpture in the café.

Norton's "Cyclone!" series is inspired in part by her mother's fascination with weather and tornados, which Norton experienced growing up in Iowa. But she also notes in her artist's statement that "Tornados can symbolize both the exterior and interior forces which lay [sic] outside our control."

Each canvas is the portrait of a different twister, and their titles are first names - as of living entities - that run through every letter of the alphabet. Befitting stormy skies, the images are often dark, but Norton's feathery brushwork and bold contrasts of value make the images breathe.

The sweeping curves of the 30-by-30-inch "Quinn" seem bound for a vicious assault on the rural landscape. The painting's low horizon is a furrowed field, and the sky is a monochromatic silvery gray. In "Xavier," a 24-by-24-inch piece, a foreground of bright-green, immature corn repeats the title's X with a cross-formation. The flat landscape and sky beyond are ominously orange and black as the tornado approaches. New Englanders who don't quite understand the psychological imprint cyclones leave on Midwesterners surely will after visiting Norton's show.

Robinson-Smith has always been a multidimensional artist: musician, writer, performance and visual artist. But over the last several years he's focused on sculpting with wire mesh screens and has created a body of work unique in the area. This is his first major exhibition of that work in Vermont; more often, he can be found selling sculptures on the streets of New York City.

Robinson-Smith's monumental "Horse Grazing" - the one in the café - measures about 55 inches tall and 6 feet long from nose to tail. Robinson-Smith exquisitely models his animals and, with careful illumination, causes light to refract through the wire mesh. "Horse to Canter" is an 11-by-23-inch wall-mounted piece that captures the steed's dynamism. Other animals in Robinson-Smith's repertoire include bulls, cows and a wonderfully molded, life-sized Russian wolfhound. The pieces capture accurate muscle tone, and complex shadows fall through them onto the wall.

The 14-inch-long wall piece "Reclining Nude Study" is a female figure. The horizontal composition resembles a classic figure-drawing pose, yet the image is mounted 2 inches above a white display board, making its shadows integral to its liveliness. All of Robinson-Smith's figures, male and female, are nudes.

"Out Along the New Frontier," a 20-by-20-inch boxed wall piece of layered copper and aluminum screens, has a strong narrative. It's a grouping of father, mother and child in the midst of a journey. The figures are seen from behind, and the mother at right is pointing the way. An abstract sun with a swirled center appears above. Robinson-Smith's aesthetic of the human figure is consistent across media, and is more abstract than is his approach to animals. The proportions are robust and a bit askew, emphasizing spirit rather than realistic representation.

These tandem exhibitions are equally strong, and both offer much material for rumination. This isn't a hallway to rush through: At the Flynndog it's all about the journey.