Saturday, January 12, 2019

Artist Statements in 4" x 6"

We drove south on backroads on a whim; we needed to see art, but saw two disappointing sets of artworks and felt defeated. One more try, we thought. We stopped for the first time at the Chester Gallery (in Chester, Connecticut, one of the most beautiful small villages in New England).

Chester Gallery is hosting this year's Holiday Postcard Show; everything is 4" x 6" or smaller. There are many of these kinds of small works shows, designed to make art affordable and give-able, and this is the best one I have seen. Its final day is today--and maybe tomorrow, Sunday the 13th of January 2019.

On the way down in the car, I was reading various artist statements aloud to my husband. Mostly, they seemed forced. It is very difficult to write about the thing your hand and imagination put together without sounding... odd. If you can write about it, after all, why paint it? [I wrote several posts on the artist statement on this blog back in 2011]. I never stop trying to figure out how best to discuss my own and other people's art.

There will be some reflected light on these pieces; I apologize! as the photographs are all mine. Do go and see these in person. Here is the first little cluster I loved:

Because of scale, these paintings sit quite a bit closer to one another than is usually possible. This allows for a good deal of cross-fertilization: the way the blues in the two left-hand paintings glide into each other, or the way the gray in the lower left is echoed and deepened by the deep blacks in the lower-right painting, where the orange is brought out more fully by the rust-orange in the work above it. Some of this interplay happens in any show, but, for some reason, it happened a lot more in this gallery than usual. Serendipitous hanging, probably, but also really good art.

Okay, so why are these pieces appealing to me? Let me try and figure that out with you. Here is "Day's End," a monotype by Kathleen DeMeo:

On her website, this artist publishes what may be the shortest and sweetest artist statement ever:

"I paint with a brayer and press
A color lover with monochrome moods
Hard-edged geometry or melted lines
Depends on the day"

This monotype (the least expensive, at $45, of any of these works, so an amazing bargain) falls into the middle of DeMeo's statement. It isn't monochrome, though the black lines lend the piece structure. The colors are so subtle, but there is something about the shades of that ochre-yellow that pulls us in. Instead of shadows around the tree, we see rings of a kind of grounded halo (those "melted lines"?).  I can almost feel the weight of air around the tree. DeMeo's artist statement is perfect, as it discusses her method, allows her leeway, and doesn't try to say too much.

The next piece I liked was by Claudia Van Nes, who opened Maple and Main, then, recently, closed the gallery and now works in a group called River Valley Artists.  My favorite part of her biography is her true starting point as a child, where she "spent drawing elaborate homes and villages for rabbits." I bet she almost didn't include that, but it makes perfect sense, because look at the detail in this watercolor, "Oranges on a Dish," where the scale (think of these orange slices up against DeMeo's tree) is so interesting:

Just as rabbit villages cannot be realistic, these oranges are not nudging into photographic realism. They are something seen out of the corner of your eye, an overlooked artistic moment in a day filled with far more important things. But isn't that what art can do, is give us those glimpses that we can hold onto?

Nearby sits "Snow at Devil's Hopyard," by Katherine Clarkson:

I like this primarily because I am often drawn to art that is on the edge of realism and abstraction. If it were not for the tree trunks in the background, this would be a far more conceptual piece. But we see the trees, then that leads us to the boulders, then the water, and the snow of the title. I could not find Katherine Clarkson's statement about her work, so here I go... Robert Motherwell said something like "start with the full picture and pare it down to the essence." The view, here, gets to put in all the detail that Clarkson didn't need: the deeper grays and veins in the rocks, the green-grays running through the water, the footprints and fallen leaves in the snow... It's all there, but she gives it to you to fill back in. Abstract art can be a gift to the viewer: "here, look at this, and imagine yourself inside ..."

"Lines," two pieces by Moya Aiken, go full-out abstract.

She writes of her work that "Even the solid areas of my work consist of many varying lines forming a solid mass in which there are time lines of shadows, a result of the different depths of graphite." Pencils can be under-rated by painters, but not by Aiken. Her pieces here show the lines running off the paper to another unseen place. The negative space here is substantial... and playful.  It looks as though the pencil began the lines and the paint or ink completed them... the lines seem to float.

Catherine Christiano says she "works from close observation of subjects... while also drawing from... art history when determining compositions." Here is an Irish street scene that could have been painted  in another time and place:

Christiano paints perfect forms and edges in her larger oils, but here her brushstrokes are looser, freer,  and the gray day is lit by the soft and misted lights of the storefront. She has given us flat shapes that indicate something more behind them-- a vase, a tray, a book. This is  a street, a painting, to wander in. It reminds us of places we have walked along but, as Christiano's statement says, it also reminds us of streets we have seen in galleries and museums portraying other times.

This show will be coming down, but the gallery owner, Nancy Pinney, can talk to you about any of these artists. Chester Gallery has shows coming, and here are two large paintings that were hanging in the back room to give you an idea of what kinds of things might be in store. The landscape is by Nancy Pinney and the still life with cat by Sheila Barbone: