Tuesday, November 3, 2009

REVIEW: The Wood Show at BigTown Gallery in Rochester

By Janet Van Fleet

It is remarkable that wood, used as an art material, can be turned to so many different uses. In the Wood Show at BigTown Gallery, in the hands of seven different artists, it serves as painting surface for Joan Kahn, still life setting (Varujan Boghosian), medium for Lawrence Fane’s carving, material for very diverse constructions by many of the exhibit’s artists, and what might be described as collages by Duncan Johnson.

Paul Bowen’s six pieces, assembled using weathered wood, range from the tiny and delicate Small Dark to the big, booming 64 x103" Cradle, featuring a collection of sun-bleached oars. Several of Bowen’s pieces (such as the one at left) have a hidden side, like the dark side of the moon, in which some hidden and slightly mysterious activity is taking place next to the wall, behind the blander face presented to the viewer on the front side.

Other artists using reclaimed wood are John Udvardy (whose Moontable (Offering for Anais Nin) is beautifully constructed and, for a non-figurative piece, full of emotional resonance), Varujan Boghosian, and Duncan Johnson.

BigTown Gallery exhibits are always beautifully curated and thoughtfully arranged to give each piece on exhibit a space that seems tailor-made for its placement. Adjacent works often appear to be having visual conversations, relating to each other in subtle ways that enrich the viewing experience. A case in point is the front third of the gallery, where the (relatively) two-dimensional work of Duncan Johnson and Joan Kahn are located. Johnson’s two works, Pelican (at left) and Open Source, are quilt-like piecings of pigmented wood that are assembled with rigorous craftsmanship, but feel like a rollicking visual version of jazz. In Pelican (48 x 48"), the rising and falling riffs of colored wood are subtly reinforced by a diagonal counterpoint of graphite lines (see detail at right).

Joan Kahn’s two pieces, Mountains and Key, though also employing a gridded structure, have surfaces that are so elegant, polished, and ethereal that if they are making music, it is with the voices of angels. In both pieces, the shiny, varnished surface is broken only by subtle gradations of the rectangular sections, and small patches at the intersections of gridlines where bits of sand are embedded, suggesting enrichment or disruption at the crossroads.

The BigTown Gallery is not very big, but every piece in this show is a gem. The exhibit is open through November 22. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday 10-5, Sunday 11-4, and by appointment.

BigTown Gallery
99 North Main
Rochester, Vermont 05767