Sunday, August 30, 2009

REVIEW: The Figure and Beyond at T.W. Wood in Montpelier

By Janet Van Fleet

Unlike actors, musicians, and dancers, who work in ensembles, visual artists are notoriously solitary creatures. So it’s exciting to find an enterprise in which painters work together, from time to time, in the same space. Billy Brauer has been leading a once-a-week life drawing and painting group for forty years in central Vermont, and over the years many, many artists have been drawn to Brauer’s Thursday evening sessions.

Work by 45 of these artists, including Brauer himself, are on exhibit at the T.W. Wood Gallery and Art Center through Sunday, October 25. The exhibit is a riot of bodies and color, very thoughtfully arranged in groupings that feature monochrome drawings, pigmented pastels, and paintings, along with a selection of Brauer’s works and his statement about the class, titled ...every Thursday night forever!

Over the years, a number of long-timers have been helpful in organizing and running the classes, including Charles Woodard and Frank Woods, and their work is among the strongest in the show. Frank Woods shows several pieces that, instead of foregrounding the model (as most of the other work does), place her at a distance and use compositional devices that move the viewer’s eye through and around the overlapping planes of the paintings, caressing the model (so to speak) at every recurring transit. In one piece, the device is a red yarn-like line moving northwest from the bottom of the painting, elevating us to the figure, scooting up along zigzagging blue shadows, and finally dropping us down to the lower right, to begin again. In another untitled piece, a vase of gladiolas on the right and a bright doorway or window on the left seem (very energetically) to be playing tennis over the head of the relaxed model.

An enclosure in the center of the gallery features 19 paintings, most of which employ the saturated colors favored by Brauer himself. Among these are several strong pieces by Ward Joyce, a profile portrait by Barbara Paulson, and a lovely little Seated Figure by Helen Rabin, in which the figure is placed in the right half of a square painting, elbows locked, with light playing on her white breasts and belly.

The exhibit includes work that was done outside the class (in their own studios) by participating artists. Among these, Jeanne Cariati’s Quatre Demoiselles Nu, a sculptural bowl with four reclining nudes sweeping around the rim of the alabaster vessel, is breathtaking. There are alabaster veins inside the bowl, like in flesh and skin, but almost completely translucent. Sande French-Stockwell’s Giragi is a perky human/giraffe model, built on a store mannequin, situated next to a larger-than-lifesize drawing in the back corner of the back room.

Other pieces that caught my eye were Pizza Box Nude by Sophia Belenky and the drawings of Joan Feierabend, which are paired with abstract geometric paintings. But there is so much work in this show that there’s plenty to tickle every fancy. So hurry on down, and discover your own favorites.

Images, top to bottom: Gallery view, Sweet Sistine by Billy Brauer, Untitled by Frank Woods, and Giragy, by Sande French-Stockwell