Walking through the Bruce Museum’s Summer with the Averys, you’ll see a number of Milton Avery’s iconic works on display, typically bold in their rendering of color and abstracted figures. You’ll see seascapes and landscapes and swimming pools and riverbanks. And, as in many of his paintings, you’ll often see two women: his wife, Sally Michel, and his daughter, March, both of whom often served as his subjects. What’s different about this exhibition is that you won’t just find the Avery women within the bounds of Milton’s canvas, remembered only by his brush. Here at the Bruce Museum, the work of all three Averys hangs together, side by side.
Sally, Milton, and March Avery, 1938
If you haven’t heard of Sally Michel or March Avery, you aren’t the only one. Kenneth E. Silver, the curator of the exhibition, wasn’t too familiar with either until speaking with a private dealer about the show. Silver didn’t actually begin the curation process with “the self-conscious idea” that he would do a show about the Avery women at all. “I knew of Sally Avery as an artist, and I’d heard of March Avery, but I was completely unaware that she also was an artist, let alone that she was alive and well and still active as a painter,” he said. Only after visiting March and seeing more of Sally’s works in person did he realize their remarkable, largely unrecognized talents as individual artists. With that realization, the concept of a family exhibition was born.
For the Averys, summer was a “working vacation”—not just an opportunity for enjoyment, but also one for “research.” The trio traveled for months at a time, often making sketches, watercolors and gouaches along the way. Untitled (Beachgoers) by Sally portrays a beach scene sketched in pencil with each element labeled by color: “navy blue” is scrawled upon the bathing trunks, and “yellow-green” upon the umbrella. Works like these were often brought home and made into oil paintings during the wintertime—and many stand as finished works on their own. In The Dead Sea, March depicts teal-bathing-suit-clad women swimming and wading in lavender waters, the sunlight gleaming on the surface aptly captured by the lightness of gouache and watercolor. In Milton’s Thoughtful Swimmer, watercolor serves as a layering tool, dense and bold where the shadows are, translucent where the light shines through the leaves and onto skin.
Milton Avery, “Thoughtful Swimmer,” 1943. Watercolor on paper, 30 3/4 x 22 1/2 in.
This exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see the way each artist’s work relates to the rest of the family. These artists weren’t just part of the same movement. They weren’t merely contemporaries. They were living under the same roof, visiting the same small forest stream and painting next to one another. The resulting similarities don’t stop at a working strategy of drafting in nature and later translating to oil. Walking around the gallery, you’ll see subject matter from the same location painted by all three artists. You’ll notice a shared color palette that runs through their collective works, sometimes rich and earthy, sometimes an airy array of pastels. Milton’s famous use of color in large, flat swaths as well as his faceless, abstracted figures are echoed in the works of Sally and March, also. They were not mere emulators of Milton’s paintings, however. There was a shared style within the family which morphed into particular forms at the hand of each artist. Although their work is similar, it is certainly not the same. One of the joys of this exhibition is to see how the world differs through each artist’s eyes—how bodies and trees take on different forms, how particularly the ocean moves depending on where one is sitting. When so much of life and work is shared, it is these small things that seem suddenly paramount.
Sally Michel, “Spring”, 1956. Oil on board, 42 x 23 7/8 in.
Summer with the Averys is, in many ways, simply about the resplendence of summertime. The paintings glow with warmth and never rush—they linger by the sea in late afternoon on beach towels, they swim naked in rivers and doze off in the sun. These works are rich and to be savored first and foremost. But this exhibition also harkens the often-quoted adage, “behind every man is a great woman.” In this case, there are two women, both of whom have been largely forgotten in Milton Avery’s rise to fame. Sally Michel worked for many years as a commercial illustrator, earning the primary source of income for her family so that Milton could pursue a career in fine arts. Some of her sketches are displayed in the exhibition. Although March said that her mother didn’t see herself as a “martyr,” there’s no doubt that her work was a sacrifice for the sake of Milton’s growth. Stephanie Guyet, the Bruce Museum’s current Zvi Grunberg Fellow, assisted Silver in organizing the exhibition, and was “key to [his] understanding much more fully what the life of a woman in the art world might be.” With the help of a woman, these women were brought into the light. And the truth is, although fame has placed their names behind Milton Avery’s, they were never truly behind him at all. They were right there beside him, brushes in hand, painting the world together.
March Avery, “The Dead Sea,” 2009. Watercolor and gouache on paper, 22 x 30 in.
Unknown artisan (Portsmouth, NH), Hearthrug, c. 1820-40, wool, silk, linen. Courtesy of Portsmouth Historical Society/Discover Portsmouth.
“Folk art is a slippery term that can lead the unwary into a scholarly semantic quagmire from which there can seem to be no escape,” writes curator Gerald W.R. Ward in the introduction to the catalogue for the exhibition New Hampshire Folk Art: By the People, For the People, on at Discover Portsmouth, operated by the Portsmouth Historical Society, through September 29. “Primitive, naïve, popular, vernacular, ethnic, outsider, rural, and many other terms have been used to describe or modify folk art,” Ward continues. “For many people, to quote a famous New Englander, ‘it is what it is.’”
Once folk art has been defined (or rather, undefined), visitors are free to enjoy the charismatic selection in this exhibition. Works were sourced through extensive statewide fieldwork, mining other historical societies’ collections and working with New Hampshire collectors. It is the first major loan exhibition of its kind in over 30 years, since By Good Hands: New Hampshire Folk Art at the Currier Museum of Art in 1989. A non-thematic show, objects are grouped somewhat like with like, but with no chronological or geographical order. One encounters the works like one would in a home. Portraits hang above furniture. A scrimshaw powder horn sits in a vitrine in a corner, reportedly found after a woods-walker fell into an old cellar in Dover. Next to it, a rather intoxicated-looking marble lion absentmindedly paws an unconscious lamb. “You can’t have a folk art show without a dopey-looking lion,” said Ward. “We happen to have two,” he noted, pointing to a painted fireboard depicting a particularly mischievous example. Painted ceramics sit near a diorama of a general store from the Museum of Dumb Guy Stuff, brainchild of Portsmouth locals Clayton Emery and Rod Hildebrand. “They didn’t hyphenate the title on purpose,” said Meredith Affleck, exhibitions and programming manager at Portsmouth Historical Society. “Is it dumb guy stuff? Or is the stuff of a dumb guy?” Not so dumb, these guys.
Left: Lion fireboard, Piermont, NH area, c. 1825. Collection of Douglas Jackman and Stephen Corrigan. Courtesy of Portsmouth Historical Society/Discover Portsmouth. Right: John S. Treat, The Lion and the Lamb, marble. Courtesy of Portsmouth Historical Society/Discover Portsmouth.
New Hampshirites’ understated intelligence and sly humor are evident in this exhibition. Ward quotes the famous collector and philanthropist Maxim Karolik as once saying that the best folk artists and craftspeople “fortunately” had no academic training, even though many had “exceptional talent.” This freedom from institutional instruction allowed for the stylized forms that inspired the artists of the 1920s and 1930s to experiment with abstraction. Yet we must not evaluate folk artists based on which fine art movements they engendered. Their skill and creativity successfully operate independent of their legacy as progenitors. As the title of the show suggests, these are everyday artists, producing work to make the lives of everyday people lovelier, and we would be remiss to dismiss their earnest and honest efforts as unsophisticated merely because they are quotidian.
A standout in the show is a hooked hearthrug, made by a Portsmouth artisan circa 1820-1840, which depicts a double-chimney colonial home situated behind a fence on a dirt road amongst various types of flora and fauna. The detail is incredible, all the more so knowing it was picked out in tufts of wool, silk and linen. The artisan used the different textiles to vary the textures of leaves and grass, bark and brick. Pointing out a delightful cross-eyed stag in the woods near the house, Affleck noted that the rug is a metaphor for the entire show: It is beautiful, skillfully constructed—and very fun. The rug is in the collection of the Portsmouth Historical Society, and while the exact location of the house it depicts is unknown, Ward said, “Some local antiquarians are on the case.” Affleck also gleefully pointed out a temperance signboard made around 1890, likely in Sandwich, NH. A serpent, its body emblazoned with the evils of alcohol, winds its way around a vessel which bears a striking resemblance to a red solo cup, preferred vessel of backwoods revels and college dorm fêtes alike. Was this artisan-teetotaler also a time traveler?
Temperance signboard, Sandwich, NH, c. 1890. Courtesy of Portsmouth Historical Society/Discover Portsmouth.
A recent addition to the Portsmouth Historical Society’s collection concludes the exhibition: a pink pussyhat knitted by Portsmouth engineer Lily Beyer. Beyer wore the hat to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. on January 21, 2017, and knitted several others for fellow marchers to wear during the protest. The hat, said Ward, is part of a long tradition of women using textiles as a form of social protest, stretching back to the Revolutionary War and Ancient Greece. Not content with a photograph, the Society wanted an artifact of this recent example of politically charged craft.
A carved wooden fawn made in 1932 by Archelas “Archie” Gilbert of Landaff stands opposite the entrance of the show, welcoming visitors with its wild, wide-open eyes. Is it a toy? A sculpture? Does it matter? Gilbert took to carving wood after an injury or illness left him unable to keep a full-time job, though perhaps that was for the best. He became the first member of the League of New Hampshire Arts and Crafts, now called the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, one of the oldest societies for craftspeople in the nation. Upstairs from For the People, the League has mounted an exhibition of contemporary New Hampshire folk art with work from its member artisans. It is a wonderful continuation of the state’s vitality and creativity. As Ward writes in the catalogue, each object in both exhibitions “represents in its own way a fundamental human urge to create art, regardless of formal training, and also to embellish the artifacts of everyday life, allowing ordinary objects to provide visual pleasure and delight through color, patterning, and abstract forms.” What could be nobler than to improve the daily lives of our neighbors, in whatever small way we can?
New Hampshire Folk Art: By the People, For the People and Contemporary NH Folk Art with the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen are on view at Discover Portsmouth in Portsmouth, NH through September 29.
Archelas “Archie” Gilbert (Landaff, NH), Spotted Fawn, 1932, painted wood. League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Courtesy of Portsmouth Historical Society/Discover Portsmouth.
Just off the main corridor of Hollister Hall at Babson College is a small exhibition space tucked into the recess below a stairwell. For the month of February, a wide wall in this alcove bore 54 small photographs of parents holding their children, isolated from context by shimmering gold backgrounds. Hung salon-style, they were clustered together like a wall of family photos. The clothing of the parents was painted over a deep ultramarine, recalling the blue robes of the Virgin Mary. In some, the gold background was studded with thicker dots and lines of paint, radiating like halos. From afar, they read as devotional icons in the early Christian tradition. However, in these images the devotion is not religious, but that of parents to their children in the face of chaos and strife.
Installation view of World News Madonnas by Nancy Jenner. Photo by Carl Tremblay. Courtesy of Nancy Jenner.
The series, World News Madonnas by artist Nancy Jenner, grew out of images of parents and children accompanying stories of war and famine. The images are familiar – they come from the wars in the Middle East, the refugee crisis in Europe and most recently, the famine in Yemen and the migrant crisis at the U.S. southern border. Jenner grew up in the pre-digital age, when news images were black-and-white photographs in newspapers or grainy reels on the evening news. She never liked reading broadsheet papers, preferring to get the news from radio broadcasts until just a few years ago, when Jenner bought an iPad. She began reading the New York Times online and was struck by the clarity and color of the images that accompanied the articles. “iPad news was a revelation,” says Jenner, who began to collect the photographs she found most striking, often of mothers and children. Jenner’s work is influenced by art history, and so she readily saw the parallels between images of parents carrying children and the Madonna and Child paintings from Christian art. Printing out her collection, Jenner realized that as she separated the parents and children from their backgrounds, she emphasized the humanity of the figures and the universally sacred notion of the parental bond.
While Christian devotionals are idealized and symbolic, Jenner’s subjects are real, more like portraits than icons. World News Madonnas celebrates people, Jenner says, not any god. Scanning their faces, one sees fear, bravery, levity, determination, defiance. There are moments of quiet tenderness, as a closed-eyed child riding the shoulders of her father leans over to rest her head on his. An empathetic viewer might find one’s facial muscles pulling into the expressions in the photos. Emotional muscle memory falls short at an image of abject misery, as a mother with sunken features holds out her skeletal child in a heart-wrenching pietà. Few know anguish like this. By separating the relationships from the chaos, Jenner forces the viewer to contemplate the human toll of these events.
Installation view of World News Madonnas by Nancy Jenner. Photo by Carl Tremblay. Courtesy of Nancy Jenner.
Jenner understands the potentially problematic nature of the series. “Because some of the recent images are particularly difficult, the question I grapple most with is, am I, by creating beautiful images of crisis and drama, honoring the men, women and children who are represented? [Am I] raising the right questions or am I perpetuating a position of voyeur, rubbernecking to observe or even glamorize the drama of others?” Jenner noted that apart from those of migrants seeking to enter across the Mexican border, it’s nearly impossible to find news images like these of people in the United States, though she did find one from the fires in California last year. That fact raises still more questions about what types of stories the American media perpetuates, and which lens Americans use to look at themselves rather than those inhabiting the rest of the world. There are clearly parent-and-child victims of hunger, natural disasters and racial violence in this country. Where are those images? Do Americans distract from this nation’s failings by highlighting the crises of others? Do we romanticize the other by dramatizing their pain? The important thing, Jenner says, is not to answer these questions, but to ask them.
Adjacent to World News Madonnas is Pollution Math, another project by Jenner. After reading that the U.S. consumes 90,000 water bottles per minute, “I was gobsmacked,” says Jenner. She knew she had to incorporate this statistic into an artwork, yet the form took longer to take shape than did the Madonnas. “I made a water bottle stamp, printed pictures of plastic,” Jenner begins, “but I wanted to commit to the number.” Cautious of the commodification of art and the production of ever-more things, Jenner sought to avoid creating waste, particularly for a piece critiquing over-consumption. She landed on rice paper scrolls dotted with India ink. Fragile, compostable, able to store compactly (“roll them up, put them in a shoebox”), the result is simple and graphic. She began making the wave pattern to represent water in general and specifically plastic waste in the ocean before she realized she knew the reference: the seigaiha pattern, common in Japanese art, represents water abstractly and is often an omen of good luck. “Pollution Math is an immersive infographic,” says Jenner, “not dissimilar to the infographics we see in our online feeds, with the added layer of scale and time – the time it took to handcraft the dots and the amount of paper needed to contain them.” Ten scrolls containing 90,000 dots resulted. “When I was finished, I did the math. My rate of painting dots was 83 dots per minute. To paint 90,000 dots took approximately 1,084 minutes. During that time, more than 97 million water bottles were consumed in the U.S.”
Details of Pollution Math, India ink on rice paper. Right: Photo by Carl Tremblay. Left: Photo by Taline Karozichian. Both courtesy of Nancy Jenner.
The materials used in Pollution Math – rice paper, India ink, the seigaiha pattern – also point to the history of colonization and globalization, and how those phenomena led to capitalism and mass consumption, which in turn have contributed to pollution and the degradation of the environment. As with World News Madonnas, the point of the work is not to offer answers to the questions it raises, “only to provide perspective and, perhaps, cause us to be more circumspect in our conclusions and more motivated in our advocacy.”
World News: Alternate Views was recently on view at Hollister Gallery at Babson College in Wellesley, MA. More of Nancy Jenner’s work can be viewed at nancyjennerartwork.com.
The smallest state capital in the U.S., Montpelier, Vermont’s population hovers just below 8,000. Its size however does not reflect Montpelier’s cultural gravity, serving as a hub for the many artists in the city and surrounding area. Think twice before passing by en route to more well-known cities and ski destinations to the north and south. Montpelier has much to offer in the way of culture, including quality galleries and artist studios.
Crossing the Winooski River, one lands squarely in downtown Montpelier. There are shops aplenty along Main Street, so it would be easy enough to pass by Barre Street. However, just up this side street is The Front, a contemporary art space tucked into a narrow storefront. The gallery space is quite small, only a couple of hundred square feet, yet there is room enough for 20 member-artists to each display a work or two. An artist-run cooperative gallery, The Front does not organize exhibitions based on theme or media, but simply numbers their group shows in which each member chooses what they will exhibit. Far from jumbled, the result is streamlined. The illusion of single-minded curation nods to the strength of each artist’s work individually, and to the mechanisms of the group as a whole.
Show 29, on through January 20, exhibits the range of the members’ talents, and proves an individualistic and contemporary mindset among all. There is the amusing, such as Fish Fish Fishes by co-founder Glen Coburn Hutcheson, a monochrome stencil painting which successfully plays with size and negative space; the lovely, in Double Negative by Alice Dodge, a punchy diptych that peers through vibrant tropical foliage towards a baby-blue sky; and the textural, like Ready to Jump by Hasso Ewing, a plaster sculpture of a bathing-costumed and swim-capped individual clutching an inner tube, about to fly from its diving board perch mounted some two feet above eye level.
Chris Jeffery, Blue Infinity Box, 2018, wood, fluorescent paint, UV light. Photo by the author.
The beguiling Blue Infinity Box by Chris Jeffrey first appears to be a well-crafted wooden box solidly situated atop a chest-height plinth. Its plainness from the approach however is almost interactive, as one instinctively knows there must be more. Rounding the perimeter of the plinth to solve this unspoken riddle, the author wondered what she might find. Would it be a shadowbox in the vein of Joseph Cornell, or a more like one of Frances Glessner Lee’s doll-sized dioramas? The answer is both and neither. Contained within this vessel is a glimpse into an alternate universe. Stacked in the center is a pyramid of fluorescent blue squares, part alien, part Mesoamerican. Bathed in UV light, the pyramid is reflected in the mirrors that line the sides and bottom of the box, repeating different perspectives of the otherworldly visage into eternity. Hovering above the pyramid is the light source, a halo of violet circles not unlike sci-fi illustrations of the lights from alien aircraft. Without any interpretation provided, the visitor is left to her own devices to decide the artist’s intent. Is this a commentary on the origins of our planet, akin to the legends of ancient societies interacting with extraterrestrials, or is this simply an exercise in light, space and form? Fans of Ancient Aliens will certainly lean one way, cynics, the other.
Hannah Morris, Latecomer, 2018, gouache and paper collage on board. Photo by the author.
Across the gallery from Blue Infinity Box, the thirteen collaged figures of Hannah Morris’s Latecomer idle around an outdoor table, waiting for a family meal. One peeks through a window on to the scene, as if to check if there’s been any progress. Although none make eye contact with the viewer, there is an unspoken invitation to join the party. The white linen table set with mismatched bowls and crowned with flowers slants out of the foreground, cropped by the frame of the painting, as in a Cezanne or Van Gogh still life. The perspective alludes to the possibility that it is in fact the viewer that is the latecomer, and at any moment the characters will look up and cheer one’s arrival. One just hopes to be wearing vertical stripes, as almost half the figures do. Despite the monochromatic dress code, each figure’s personal style is evident, and one can tell this is a fun bunch.
The Front is just the latest iteration of an arts space at 6 Barre Street. Hutcheson first operated an individual studio and display space in the location in February 2013, using space in the back to create and showing his own work in “the front” (undoubtedly the punny source of the gallery’s name). He was joined soon after by several studio partners, including artists Shamus Langlois and Abigail Feldman, who took charge of the exhibition space and dubbed it gallery SIX. After several well-received exhibitions, Feldman and Langlois left in April 2015 to pursue personal projects, and gallery SIX rebranded under Hutcheson – with the help of a new crop of artist friends – as The Front a month later. Now 20 members strong, the group shares financial, administrative and staffing responsibilities and rewards. “Artists want exposure and interaction – at least some artists, sometimes,” said Hutcheson. This inclusive attitude trickles down to Hutcheson’s pricing scheme for his works, noted on the wall text for Fish Fish Fishes as “$8 x your hourly wage or 0.004 x your yearly income.”
Upon entering The Front, one senses the unexpected magic of peering into a jewel box. This feeling is heightened by the lateness of the gallery’s Friday evening hours, 4-7 p.m., during which the author visited the space this winter. As darkness falls outside, the glowing windows of The Front beckon and inside, its art-lined walls inspire a shrine-like reverence. Like a jewel box, the space is a constant source of value to Montpelier, which, as Hutcheson noted, is curiously devoid of contemporary galleries despite the number of artists living and working in the area. Aware of its role, The Front acknowledges in its mission the drive “to both support its individual members as well as provide rich artistic experiences for the larger community.” As founding member Ellen Cheney shared, “We all want what is best for each other, as well as the gallery. Our group is personal, meaning we all work better when we work closely together. We constantly have the community in mind, with everything we do.”
Show 29 is on through January 20, 2019 at The Front, open Fridays, 4-7 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays, 11-5 p.m. at 6 Barre Street, Montpelier, VT.
You might call it Isamu Noguchi unplugged. The 40 or so sculptures and ten works on paper in this somewhat patchwork loan show from The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum in New York highlight the Japanese-American sculptor’s forays into places “beyond the pedestal”—playgrounds, the stage, interiors—while sticking to his artistic mission: “to order and animate space.”
Noguchi (1904-1988) worked on several playground projects, bringing a modernist aesthetic to them. The maquette for Slide Mantra (ca. 1985), made from Botticino marble, could stand alone as a geometric abstract sculpture, yet a blown-up photo of the artist taking a turn on the realized version demonstrates its function. Six graphite studies for playground equipment in Ala Moana Park on Oahu in Hawaii offer a glimpse of his design process.
On many occasions Noguchi designed props and sets for choreographers, including Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Erick Hawkins. The exhibition includes his 13-foot-high Jungle Gym (1947), a brightly colored stripped-down Calder-esque construction used in Hawkins’s Stephen Acrobat. A photo shows a dancer swinging on it during a performance.
Over the years Noguchi designed household furnishings, often in partnership with design companies. Several items are on view here, including a couch and Ottoman set, hanging lanterns, and a “rocking stool.” Radio Nurse (1937), a prototype for a baby monitor, was fabricated from Bakelite for the Zenith Radio Corporation. The head-shaped device with its mask-like grill comes off as a spooky collectible.
Above: Isamu Noguchi, Jungle Gym, 1947, steel, plastic and paint. Courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art.
Noguchi also explored abstract concepts. In the somewhat comically titled Costume for a Stone (1982), a jagged piece of granite thrusts through a collar-like frame of hot-dipped galvanized steel. For Beginnings (1985), he arranged five large volcanic andesite rocks in a Zen garden-like configuration. The rocks appear to emerge from the floor like atolls.
In his lifetime, Noguchi witnessed some of the worst of humanity, including the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. He voluntarily spent six months in the Poston War Relocation Center in the Arizona desert, hoping to better the conditions for the detainees. Yellow Landscape and My Arizona, both 1943, conjure the lunar-like terrain of the camp in highly abstract formats. Noguchi was a modernist even when it came to reflecting on a dark period in American history and his own life.
Beyond the Pedestal: Isamu Noguchi and the Borders of Sculpture is on view at the Portland Museum of Art through January 6, 2019.
Fallen leaves litter the forest floor. A woman’s shawl, a swatch of royal blue cloth tilting upward, drapes on a barren limb. The Rude Screen, George Shaw’s title for this particular painting, suggests the push-pull of presence and absence that characterizes his work. The cloth with its deep shadows hints at something left behind; a ghostly haunt in this deserted spot. Autumn, the season of melancholy and desolation, seems made for this contemporary British painter, whose retrospective, George Shaw: A Corner of a Foreign Field, at the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA) through December 30, is creating a stir. Amy Meyers, YCBA’s director, describes Shaw’s art as “often provocative”—rooted within English (and European) landscape traditions while posing a challenge to its romanticized subject matter.
While a student at London’s Royal College of Art, Shaw (b. 1966) painted a cluster of row houses, focusing on the one with a green door—his boyhood home in Tile Hill. With this work, he found his calling (some say obsession). A Corner of a Foreign Field begins with this architectural portrait, No. 57, toned in tans and greens. The planned community of Tile Hill, nestled in lightly forested land near Coventry, was built to house the working class in the flourish of post-World War II’s utopian aspirations. Even today, as it falls into disrepair, Tile Hill remains Shaw’s literal and psychological terrain. A Corner of a Foreign Field, Shaw’s first solo exhibit in this country, traces the looping back and forth quality of his wistful visual poetry.
Tile Hill is situated in the Forest of Arden, the setting for Shakespeare’s comedies of young love such as As You Like It. In contrast, Shaw’s own pastoral vision is similarly dark. With rare exceptions, there are no actual figures in his paintings. (In The Call of Nature (2015/6), he tweaks the conventions of landscape painting and poses himself, his back to the viewer, urinating against a tree, and in The Visitor (2017), the artist’s shadow lurks in the foreground as either a voyeur or spy.) As in The Rude Screen, human presence is stronger when implied.
During a recent gallery walk-through covering over 70 paintings and numerous drawings—some monumental, clustered chronologically and thematically (there are ten themes, from “Recording a World” through “Paintings of Now”)—Shaw, a Turner Prize nominee, answered questions with a twinkle in his eye while leaving traces of mystery on the palette. As a boy Shaw took photographs while walking the nearby woodlands with his father, a factory worker who encouraged his son’s abilities. Today, photographs of Tile Hill and its surroundings form the basis for paintings that record the passage of time. Rather than paint with oils, signifier of “fine art” traditions, Shaw prefers Humbrol enamel paints, intended for hobbyists. Ironically, the glowing, romantic quality in his work, linking him with classicists like Titian (1488-1576) and other painters Shaw studied at the British Museum, results from the enamel’s flat sheen. Both insider and outsider, Shaw casts an indelible tone.
In their recent exhibitions, Rockport, MA gallerists Bob and Jill Whitney Armstrong have pursued an interest in art’s intersection with ritual, talismans and spirituality. On the heels of their summer exhibition at iartcolony, the shaman show, comes the cult of cape ann, a meditation on the power that place can hold over artists. Rather than negative and restrictive, the Armstrongs represent Cape Ann’s “cult” as a romanticized, loosely pagan utopia of nature-based ritual and hippie one-ness.
One-ness aside, the style of artwork in the cult of cape ann is difficult to summarize. For the purposes of this review, I will refer to three main categories or trends, which I’ll call the painterly, the poetic, and the fantastical.
This image: H. Peik Larsen, Quarry, 1999, oil on canvas, 18” x 18″. Previous: Gianna Stewart, MOTIF-0, red and mirrored acrylic, edition 1 of 8, 5.25 x 10 x 3″. All images are courtesy iartcolony.
Painterly works typify the traditional side of Cape Ann’s art ecosystem. They break landscape into visual elements—form, color and light—taking an art-for-art’s-sake stance and celebrating the region’s timelessness. A striking example is H Peik Larsens’s suite of landscapes that celebrate the bold streaks of light and shadow caused by trees, coastlines, and quarries. This version of the “cult” delights in the act of seeing, and at heart it remains close to the en plein air dictum of the American Impressionist tradition, even if it has evolved stylistically.
Krystle Colleen Brown, still from Better Gardens, single channel video, 06:30, loop, edition 1 of 5.
Poetic works relied heavily on words and sound, or employed symbols that suggested elements of Cape Ann history or culture, often overlaid with mystery and emotion. Among these, Krystle Brown’s Better Gardens video follows a woman wandering through the abandoned settlement of Dogtown, where the famous Babson Boulders immortalized by Marsden Hartley are found. Background sounds like insects buzzing and twigs snapping are loud over the headphones as the woman silently lies down on a moss bed, or stops by a ruin. Brown’s work goes hand-in-hand with pieces like Monica Lynn Manoski’s “performance relics and poetry,” presented as a kind of shrine composed of little shelves ensconcing bottles of water and bits of local granite like saintly relics, with label-maker poems running across them and onto nearby doorjambs and windowsills. An excerpt reads: “this place is real / but dissolves inside my head / we were given a map / with wrinkles to follow / to place pins & mark time / but the hours & minutes aren’t linear.” In these works, Cape Ann is more than a visual muse—it’s a psychological place, a site of internal questioning. Of the works on view, these were the most puzzling, yet also the most rewarding to spend time with.
Thomas Philbrook, NUMERO UNO, archival inkjet of a photographic digital composite, image 15 x 21”.
The fantastical works are imaginative homages to Cape Ann icons, with some welcome bursts of humor. The oft-painted red fishing shack known among artists as Motif #1 makes multiple appearances. Thomas Philbrook’s NUMERO UNO is a digitally manipulated scene in which the famous structure sits under a garish, motel-inspired neon sign as a galaxy of stars swirl overhead. It’s Motif #1 as it might appear in Hollywood or Las Vegas. Or maybe a recreation of the shed is destined to travel all the way to Art Basel Miami in 2020, as Gianna Stewart proposes with a fiberglass model and manifesto in MOTIF-0. Stewart acknowledges her project’s absurdity, yet also points out that it has a historical precedent—Rockport artists sent a Motif #1 float to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. Motif-0 manages to be both a celebration of an icon, and a hint at this humble buildings strange allure to generations of artists.
For an outsider, Cape Ann’s cult-like attitude about its own art can seem enticing at best, and parochial at worst. Yet for natives and new initiates, the “cult” is a great place to belong. Here, artists are in tune with nature at its most elemental—ocean, rock, sky—while also surrounded by visually interesting human stories, from the travails of working-class fishermen to a booming tourism and leisure industry. It’s the kind of artist group that’s comfortable with its own hyper-localizing tendencies, producing abundant narratives about itself that manage to be both grandiloquent and cozy. All manner of art-making and all levels of talent are welcome—so long as the artist accepts Cape Ann’s incredible power of place.
the cult of cape ann is on view at iartcolony through October 18.
Art New England boasts a multitalented staff and many alumni who continue to make waves in the local arts scene and beyond. Former ANE art director Merli V. Guerra is an accomplished dancer and choreographer who co-founded Boston-based Luminarium Dance Company, which has received accolades for its inventive integrations of movement and light.
This fall, Luminarium debuts its evening-length performance, HIVELAND, at Cambridge, MA’s Multicultural Art Center (September 21–29). HIVELAND is the company’s elaboration upon a shorter work commissioned by TEDxCambridge in 2016. In the original performance, light silhouetted dancers’ forms before they burst into a three-dimensional, fantasy world, interacting with each other and a large red circle symbolizing a portal. As a colleague of Guerra’s and a fan of Luminarium, I witnessed an informal performance of new material extending from the TEDx dance at the Green Street Studios at the end of 2017. At the time, Guerra described the new work as an exploration of what might be encountered once one passes through the red circle. Now that the completed HIVELAND is about to debut, I reconnected with Guerra, co-founder Kimberleigh Holman, and other members of the Luminarium team to learn more about the evolution of this work.
This image: Luminarium Dance Company performs the opening scene of HIVELAND as the opening act for TEDxCambridge 2016. Photo: Ryan Carollo. Previous: Promotional imagery for HIVELAND. Courtesy Merli Guerra.
First of all, what is meant by “hiveland?” In a surprisingly straightforward explanation, Holman said, “I got a beehive installed in the backyard, and the idea of a hive was mutually on our brains. As I spent some time observing the bees in action, the idea of playing off ‘hive’ was more and more the right choice—the buzz, the spirit of constant work, the community, and the ever-present drone… The piece for TEDx was also inspired by the idea of learning and working as a community…the fantastical hive motif was seamlessly integrated.”
“When titling the production, we were struck by the characters’ identities both as individuals and as a unified community,” Guerra elaborated. “We begin with everyone working fast-paced as a unified colony, yet as the work continues to unfold, we…zoom in on each individual within the group. It reminded us in many ways of bees entering and exiting a hive.”
Katie McGrail, a dancer with Luminarium since 2012, described HIVELAND’s choreography as “a series of multifaceted pushes and pulls. There is an intensity to it that appears in different ways at different points, sometimes showing up as intense physicality, other times as subtle manipulation…I would describe HIVELAND as an exploration of a very particular world in which universal dualities, such as individuality and belonging, present themselves and must be grappled with.” Fellow dancer Jennifer Roberts likened it to “the personal buzzing of a shifting brain.”
Luminarium Dance Company presents HIVELAND. Photo: Ryan Carollo.
Adding to this double sensation of flux and intensity is composer Christos Zevos’ score, which builds an “uncanny mood” from playing stringed instruments, dropping stones in a filled bathtub, the sound of a leaf blower, and other moments that veer from bizarre to prosaic. “What I like the most about what I’ve produced for HIVELAND is the mix of [digital and analog] elements. I spent a great deal of time recording acoustic instruments, Foley sound effects and digital audio to create a sound which is both organic and electric. Many of these real-world sounds have effects and processing added to them to create something that is otherworldly, while also containing elements which sound natural.”
While it may not be discernable to the audience, one of HIVELAND’s most unusual elements is its slow, two-year-long evolution. “Taking this kind of extended time to create work is not something we often get to do in the dance world,” McGrail explained. “This process has been somewhat luxurious in that way.”
Guerra expressed similar emotions, noting that the production’s “longer work period has allowed me the time to ruminate inside each segment’s reasons for being, and for that I am grateful.” Yet she acknowledges the particular challenges of creativity sustained through major life changes. “Due to straddling two cities now (Boston, MA and Princeton, NJ), my physical interaction with the dancers has been considerably limited for this production. So while the brain-related aspects of my work have flourished, it is the body that has felt rushed in creating HIVELAND. Still, I find myself mesmerized by the final results, and look forward to seeing the work in its fullest—feeding off the energy of the audience on opening night!”
Luminarium Dance Company’s feature production HIVELAND runs September 21, 22, 28, 29 at 8pm at the Multicultural Arts Center in East Cambridge, MA, with a special post-performance Meet & Greet with the cast and directors on opening night. To learn more about the production and buy tickets, visit luminarium.ticketleap.com/hiveland.
Samantha Cataldo is the assistant curator at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, NH. Cataldo recently spoke with Art New England about new developments in the Currier’s Contemporary Connections series, especially Ethan Murrow: Hauling, an installation that will feature a 100-foot-long wall drawing, large works on paper, and a kinetic “rolling drawing”—all focused on manual labor and Manchester’s industrial history.
Art New England: Let’s focus on Hauling first. How did Ethan Murrow come to the Currier’s attention?
Samantha Cataldo: We invite artists from New England to create new work for the Currier that’s based either on the Currier itself—the building, collection or history—or on our neighborhood and Manchester in general. When I first arrived at the Currier, I had a bunch of regional artists of interest that I presented to our team. One of them was Ethan Murrow.
Ethan’s hitting all the layers. He is going to involve the Currier’s building itself because he’s drawing directly on our wall… He has done tons of research into local history related to labor, and he looked in our collections and found odd objects that I didn’t even know we had. More broadly, he’s thinking about the role of an industrial city within the greater New Hampshire landscape.
ANE: What were the objects that Ethan found in the Currier’s collection?
SC: There were some things like samples of lace made in the region, or specific types of candleholders from the Industrial Era. These objects don’t go out on view as much… It was fun for me as a curator to see them, even though they won’t manifest in the finished work—they were just part of the research process.
ANE: What else makes Murrow a good fit for the Currier?
SC: He’s both an insider and an outsider in a way. He grew up in southern Vermont, with a rural upbringing. Now he’s in the Boston area. He’s a New Englander, but he wasn’t familiar with Manchester, specifically. I think that’s interesting. It’s not as if he has no preconceived notions about life in this region, but he arrived without specific knowledge…
Contemporary artists who are looking at the past really interest us. That’s a lot of what Ethan does. He’s not creating something didactic, though. He infuses his own signature style, which is nearly hyper-realistic from afar. Then, when you get up close, the hatching and contours are much more expressive. This is similar to the way he presents this historical subject matter. There is a fantastic element—moments of it that are absurd.
ANE: For a site-specific installation like Hauling, how involved are you, as a curator, in the artist’s development of the piece?
SC: Ethan is great at collaboration. There are a lot of people involved in this project, from drawing assistants who will help with the wall drawings, to several local amateur actors—Ethan does a photo shoot to get image sources as he thinks about the larger composition. Collaboration is really important to him, especially because this installation is about labor and the collaborative process. My role is to open those avenues of collaboration and communication. In general, that’s how I think of my role as a curator, when artists are creating something new. I’m a conduit to the museum.
ANE: What aspects of Hauling are most compelling to you?
SC: This project is the biggest [Ethan] has ever done, which contributes to it being about manual labor. The Sharpies that they are using [to make the wall drawing] are ultra-fine, so it’s very labor intensive.
As Americans, we romanticize being overworked. You always want to be the person who doesn’t take their vacation, who gets to the office first and leaves last. For good or bad, that’s mostly what America is like. I’m really drawn to the bigger ideas that come out of Hauling.
ANE: Do you think that Manchester residents will view this work with a different takeaway than visitors from other regions?
SC: Ethan wanted the project to end up both universal and specific. In addition to the wall drawing, there are drawings on paper, and in the middle of the gallery is a kinetic work, a 52-foot scroll we’re calling a “rolling drawing.” The works on paper deal more directly with the history of labor in this region, specifically the mills…There definitely is specificity that locals will pick up on, but his exploration of hauling—this essential act of carrying tools and the things we value—is universal.
ANE: Let’s talk more about Manchester. How do you think Manchester measures alongside other industrial or post-industrial communities in New England, in terms of engaging with the arts?
SC: I can give you broad strokes. There’s a lot that’s happening now, but I feel that we’re still at the beginning of it. There are things that are starting to work. The infrastructure is here. The mill buildings have these great loft spaces that are completely full with business and living spaces and studios… There are municipal and private groups that are working on different public art initiatives. There are also a lot of other things that help, like having new restaurants and new “third spaces,” or places where you go to hang out that are not home or work.
ANE: Are there trends or types of projects that you have seen elsewhere that you would like to see at the Currier or in Manchester?
SC: Museums are trying to be more outward-facing, placing more interactive works in public spaces and blurring boundaries between inside and outside.
In addition to Ethan’s work this fall, we’re installing The Blue Trees by Konstantin Dimopoulos. The installation is a biologically safe, water-based colorant—a vibrant blue—that is used to color trees. It’s completely safe for the trees, but it’s shocking. Konstantin started this as a response to global deforestation. The installation calls attention to this issue through installations in cities where people aren’t as concerned about deforestation, and take their landscape for granted. The blue gets you to notice the trees… We’ve commissioned the artist to do an installation that will cover parts of the Currier and also a local park near the museum, leading downtown. It’s really the first installation that we’ve done outdoors like this, publicly and beyond the museum. Like with Hauling, we’ll work with a lot of people in the community to help color the trees, which will be done by the artist with a team of volunteers, starting at the end of September.
ANE: Are there programs or initiative currently happening at the Currier that you think could be useful for other museums or communities to know about?
SC: One of the amazing things we are so proud of is called Art of Hope. It’s a gathering where families affected by the opioid epidemic can come together and basically talk about art as a tool for coping with the situation. It’s a really interesting program that’s been small and dynamic so far. It’s one good example of how a museum can use art to engage with a social and health concern, especially in New Hampshire where there’s a lot of talk going on right now about this epidemic.
The installation process for Ethan Murrow: Hauling is on view August 27–September 15. The completed exhibition opens September 15. The Blue Trees by Konstantin Dimopoulos will be installed beginning September 24 and will be complete in early October. The trees will remain blue for six to nine months, depending on the weather and type of bark.
Philip Brou’s first solo exhibition, Letting Yourself Go, at Corey Daniels Gallery in Wells, ME, is a conceptually dense exhibition rendered into a handful of precise elements that elude summary. Each work is so filled with the artist’s inquiry into the human condition that one must move through it slowly in order to absorb half of what he might have intended. From the very start, the show attempts to destabilize the viewer by positioning two large, temporary walls in such a way that the viewer enters the space from what feels like backstage. From there, things only become more unusual and, for the open-minded viewer, fascinating.
Installation view, Letting Yourself Go. Previous image: Philip Brou, It’s Later Than You Think, 2018, oil on linen, 41 x 26″. All images courtesy Corey Daniels Gallery.
Connections across the works on view are both cerebral and visual. Free, a “haiku” of paper signs that Brou collected from sidewalks, shouts out the word “free” 17 times until the word begins to take on mysterious significance. Across the gallery on a tabletop, another Free consists of dirt collected from the graveyard in Richmond, VA, at the church where founding father Patrick Henry delivered his famous line, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Richmond was also once the seat of the Confederacy—the longer you contemplate this single word written in dirt, the more layers of history converge and complicate the work’s meaning. Next to it, yet another Free—a wooden sign floating upside-down in a tank of saltwater from the Atlantic. The viewer must strain to see the word mirrored on the bottom, and from certain angles it appears to say something else—“LIFE,” or perhaps “FLEE.” While themes of emigration from Europe, slavery and the African diaspora aren’t mentioned in the exhibition materials, it’s tempting to read them into these two works’ confluence of Atlantic water and American soil. Or, viewers might regard these repetitions as an examination of one word’s conflicting, albeit related, valences. The state of being free is to be without value. Said another way, freedom is priceless.
Philip Brou, Free, 2018, a haiku poem composed of found Free signs with artist-made frames. Each frame is 11 x 14″.
Brou buries many double-meanings within his art, and it was easy for this viewer to latch onto certain themes, racing towards her own theories and conclusions. His works encourage the search for an “Ah ha!” moment, whether or not the viewer’s realization coincides with that of the artist. Yet as the gallery co-director and curator Sarah Bouchard explains, for her, “so much of the work is busting open the idea of how identity is constructed, and it doesn’t lead to answers. It just leads to more questions.”
Another grandiose question the exhibition explores is the concept of the “Nemo” (or “Nobody”), a reference to an episode in Homer’s Odyssey. What does it mean to be or to become a Nobody? Brou commissioned two self-portraits from forensic artists by giving them a verbal description of himself; he then titled both of the resulting drawings i. They have a resemblance to one another, while also sharing that blank expression common to forensic art. Without conveying the subject’s emotion, the portraits leave the viewer free (again, free) to read preconceived notions about forensic portraiture within Brou’s face. Bouchard described them as vulnerable and fragile. I saw them as menacing.
Philip Brou, Just Keep Swimming, 2018, oil on linen, 54 x 36″.
Three masterfully rendered, photo-realist paintings continue Brou’s exploration of the Nemo. Just Keep Swimming depicts a mannequin dressed in a boy’s Finding Nemo shirt, a reference to the popular animated film about a lost fish and his father’s search to find him. It takes time to determine what exactly is wrong with the painting. Many of the details make this appear to be a real child. The jacket is undone and droops off the shoulders with a convincing carelessness. Yet like the forensic portraits, there is no real emotion that can be read in the mannequin’s face—there is no real boy. The recreation of a human being is right there in front of us, but this is essentially a portrait of absence. In two additional paintings (one also titled i, the other It’s Later Than You Think), Brou paints himself, shirtless and wearing a Cyclops mask (another Odyssey reference), and a skeleton that duplicates his stance. Brou’s obscuring of the face blocks one of the most fundamental way humans connect with one another. A grinning skull and a rubber mask are poor stand-ins for the human gaze. Yet these are still compelling portraits for their luminous rendering and intense detail. With the basic instinct to look at the subject’s face diverted, viewers are freed (once again) to seek information elsewhere, in the penciled number on a bone perhaps, or in the curl of an individual chest hair.
Letting Yourself Go is as much a directive to the viewer as it is a description of Brou’s inquiry. There is an uncanny, uncertain territory to explore within each of the works on view, and in the layered dialogue that they hold with each other. It is best to let go of one’s certainties before entering.
Letting Yourself Go is on view at Corey Daniels Gallery through August 4, 2018.