Saturday, July 10, 2010

REVIEW: Harry A. Rich at Skinny Pancake in Montpelier

By Theodore A. Hoppe

Harry A. Rich is not a well-known name among Central Vermont art lovers, but that situation is being addressed by the art-savvy general manager of the Skinny Pancake, Jeremy Silansky. Wander into the restaurant located at City Center in downtown Montpelier and you will find an astonishing collection of modernist abstract paintings to go along with your coffee and crepes.

Rich moved to Sandgate, Vermont a decade ago, where he now paints full-time. His work is better known in Southern Vermont. In fact, except for an exhibition at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes about a year ago, Rich had never exhibited his paintings in Northern Vermont. He was encouraged to bring his art to Montpelier by Silansky, who uses the website "Made in Vermont" to locate art for display in the eatery. "I liked his work a lot and decided to contact him." said Silansky, when ask how he lured the accomplished artist to the capital.

Rich is a graduate of The Pratt Institute (BFA), and Wesleyan University (MA) where instructors included the renowned abstract expressionist Adolph Gottlieb. He was also a teacher and lecturer at various colleges and institutions, and a design director and consultant. His resume includes being a resident artist at The Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont. "My paintings are children of the New York School. They strive to build on the their heritage while remaining within the tradition of Modernism," says Rich. A painter for fifty years, he now follows the observation of the painter Chuck Close, who quipped, “Amateur painters wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work."

The paintings on display at the small Montpelier restaurant are fine "work" indeed. They are colorfully pleasing and filled with beautiful complexity. The constructed spaces and shapes can invoke architecture, landscape and interior design.

Taconic # 1 is bright and airy, full of details. The various square shapes of greens and light blue define a foreground and background. Pale washes tone down the strong swatch of orange and yellow the way sheer curtains can filter the sunlight. Multi-colored brush strokes argue with themselves in the corners, like friends at a cocktail party. One is easily absorbed into the layers of color-on-color, white-on-white, and textures that emerge from the canvas.

Monument to Mountain Song , is a wavy green landscape motif with a dazzling bright colored painting-within-a painting, reflections of sky and landscape captured in the sunlight on a shimmering pond.

Ode to Frank O'Hara stands out for its swirling energy. Cylinder shapes are projected about on a roller-coaster ride with no beginning or ending point. The perspective of the painting seems to include the point from which it is viewed. The filigree mesh and chain link design seem incapable of holding back the advancing explosion of white arising from the darkened background.

There's an interesting anecdote to this show as well. One of the paintings, Maestro, which appears on Harry Rich's business card, never made it to Montpelier. The artist's journey north took him up and over Magic Mountain with the large 48" x 48" paintings loaded into a small tow-behind trailer. Somehow the door of the trailer opened up, and the Maestro decided to slip out the back of the trailer. An older couple who happened to be headed down the mountain road when Rich was headed up witnessed the painting’s escape. They were able to retrieve the miraculously undamaged work of art and managed to return it to the artist a few days later.

Only in Vermont!

Do stop in to see these fabulous paintings while you have the chance.
To visit Harry A. Rich's website go to

Images, top to bottom: Taconic #1, Monument to Mountain Song, and Ode to Frank O’Hara, all Acrylic on canvas, 48x48"