Thursday, February 25, 2010

REVIEW: Sabra Field at Chaffee Art Center in Rutland

By Peter S. Wallis

Since 1969, Sabra Field’s passion for the Vermont landscape has led her to a rich exploration of printmaking in her studio in East Barnard. She is one of the most compelling contemporary printmakers presently working in the medium here in Vermont, and her exhibit, Cosmic Geometry and Other Recent Prints, is at the Chaffee Art Center from February 12-March 21, 2010.

After completing a degree from Middlebury College and earning an M.A.T. from Wesleyan University she was awarded an honorary P.H.D. from Middlebury College, where a permanent collection of her work is housed. Field teaches printmaking workshops in Tuscany and shares the work with the Vermont community. Her subject matter evokes muses of Italian and Greek art history but is steadfastly grounded in a certain sense of place here in Vermont. Field’s strong connection to the Vermont landscape allows her to express the subtle beauty of the state. Her bold graphic elements create an allegory of pastoral moments with an economy of mark and accuracy of gesture Her style is distinctively her own. In an era where digital mediums are taking over many art practices, Sabra’s careful meditation with printmaking materials continues the thoughtful tradition of block printmaking with a deep reverence for the Vermont landscape.

Throughout the ages artists have had a tremendous impact on the political, social, and environmental constructs of the world we live in. Individual artists have dissolved political systems, created social dialogs, and have been a voice for the oppressed. Artists of many different practices have fostered messages of peace and prompted social change. Singular minds and gestures have been a voice for human suffering in a world overwhelmed by environmental degradation, as well as political and social injustices. Artists find themselves often wondering how they can inspire change and social awareness through their work.

In that same vein Sabra Field’s Pandora Suite series exercises the artist’s role as activist and continues a thread of thoughtful protest in her current work. She works in a long tradition of artists dealing with overcoming human suffering and war through visual art.

This current body of work reflects her own contemporary take on the Greek Myth of Pandora’s Jar. The piece entitled Suffering, included in this series, invokes the mother and dead child of Picasso’s famed Guernica mural. The work also alludes to Goya’s Horrors of War series, with echoes of Mary Cassatt’s tenderness, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s monumental flowers and landscapes.

This work reminds us how deeply suffering and war are ingrained in the human experience that we all share. Pandora Suite digs deep into our collective consciousness to engage the viewer with the difficult issues of warfare, inequality, and suffering. Eventually themes in this series are overcome by compassion, culture, love, hope, and wisdom and leave the viewers to draw their own associations with the contents of Pandora’s Jar. This is a very powerful series, with large expressionistic figures whose earth-toned palette suggests they mayhave been carefully carved and rendered from Pandora’s Jar itself. The work is as bold as it is charged with a compassionate sensibility.

Also in the show is a series titled Cosmic Geometry, interconnected moments, subtly suggesting Fibonacci’s golden ratio and forms in nature as well as architecture. This work is an interesting departure from her depictions of the Vermont landscape, expressing an interest in relationships and similarities through patterns and symbolism and offering up some interesting juxtapositions. This body of work certainly connects the microcosmic world with the macrocosmic. Sabra Field’s work at the Chaffee ranges from moments of quiet contemplation of the Vermont landscape, to patterns and similarities in natural and man-made systems, leading to Pandora’s Jar brimming with human experiences of war and love we all share.

I asked Sabra Field some questions about her artwork and her thoughts about artmaking in Vermont.

P.W. Who are the printmakers that most inspire you?

S.F. Leonard Baskin and Carol Summers

P.W. What effect do you feel individual artists have on fostering and transmitting messages of peace in the world?

S.F. Only a few greats like Picasso and Goya rise above the level of amateur propaganda to depict human tragedy. The rest of us try to make images, which will separate ourselves from violence and identify ourselves with the good guys... failing to understand that both are part of human nature.

P.W. In a time when younger artists are making a mass exodus to larger cities in hopes of better opportunities and jobs, what advice do you have for younger artists who have chosen to stay here in Vermont and are struggling with a state with very little opportunity for artists and craftspeople?

S.F. Truthfully, I wasn't aware of this "mass exodus". I would say it's always been a struggle. One must make one's own opportunities as well as take advantage of what exists. For instance, when I arrived I began doing craft fairs. I also made friends with another artist and together we put on exhibits to benefit non-profits.

The advent of the internet kind of negates the necessity of being one place or another, doesn't it?

The show is on view at Chaffee Art Center from February 12-March 21, 2010

Art Hop Reception: Featuring Music by John Spencer, Friday, March 12, 5-8 pm

Closing Reception: Gallery Talk and Tour with Sabra Field, Saturday, March 20, 2-5 pm

Chaffee Gallery Hours: Wednesday-Saturday 10-5, Sunday: 12-4 pm