Monday, April 13, 2009

REVIEW: High Priestess of Pizza

By Sid Gulick

I had the good fortune to stumble onto a little exhibit of paintings by Janet Van Fleet entitled "Priests" on the walls of the Parker Pie pizza emporium in West Glover, Vt. The venue, a gustatory and cultural oasis off the beaten path in the Northeast Kingdom, is becoming known for its special menu events and musical nights featuring local performers and poets every other Thursday in addition to serving some of the best gourmet pizza available anywhere.

Ms. Van Fleet's works are all portrait/caricatures of individuals presented as priests of a largely secular society. Many of the portraits have gold leaf backgrounds reminiscent of Eastern European Orthodox icon paintings. However, as the artist says in her artist's statement, these are for the most part not religious figures but rather "fellow travelers of another kind, these priests are secular clerics, our comrades". There's a light sense of whimsy and humor running through the show: The Priest of Inner Logic is dressed as a fool. The Priest of Schooling wears a coarse hairnet and is surrounded by fish, most of whom seem too small to be entrapped by the net. The only overtly religious figure, the Priest of Priests, seems to generate a mist or veil which serves to obscure rather than clarify truth. The Priest of Hot Things (right) seems to have overdosed on jalapenos (possible with some of the spicier offerings at Parker Pie).

Although there is a sense of wit which pervades the works, the expressions of the priests are for the most part pensive, if not gloomy. The only individual who looks at all cheerful is the Priest of Inflated Assets, with a green head like a misshapen artichoke and a grin that looks like he's about to sell another bundle of shaky mortgages.

It's not clear to me what Ms. Van Fleet is saying with this work. It would be easy to write it off as a lighthearted series of amusing ideas that tickled the artist but weren't worth the time to push any farther, and to take each work as a clever one-liner. Regardless, the individual works were amusing, and my trip to the restaurant provided food for thought as well as body.