Sunday, January 23, 2011

REVIEW: Joan Curtis at Feick Arts Center in Poultney

By Liza Myers

Nature’s Wiles: Recent Paintings and Sculptures by artist Joan Curtis is currently on display at the Feick Arts Center in Poultney, Vermont through February 11, 2011. The show is a celebration of color, texture, form and mystery. Stepping into the spacious Feick Gallery is akin to entering the secret musings of this prolific, complex artist, whose dynamic work fills the room with joyful color.

Curtis states: “The images refer to the seemingly wanton behavior of Nature throughout our world. Perhaps flippantly the artwork imagines us in a fictional rapport with tumultuous natural events.”

The show’s title painting Nature's Wiles appears to be a complex cacophony of juxtaposed vignettes. In the painting Nature and the hand of man are inextricably entwined in a writhing landscape. Tiny multi-colored houses, their windows warmly aglow, are depicted in the moment of being swept away by a brutal flood. In the center a solitary tree reaches towards the energetic sky, anchored by towering rocks. Below the waterfall, gushing floodwaters threaten a tranquil, shimmering pond upon which a tiny boat floats serenely. The vessel’s solitary occupant is motionless, observing this chaos. As is Buddha who sits in a dark red temple with a checkerboard tile floor. On the left side of the waterfall, a more peaceful world exists. The house sits far from the flood; boats are safely pulled ashore. A horse and dog frolic.

As if the paintings were not enough of an oeuvre, Curtis’ sculptures loom off the wall or pedestal. Creatures and human figures nestle into the sheltering caverns, shelves and niches that Curtis creates with her signature technique of papier mache construction. Brilliant patterns, richly developed surfaces, wild complementary colors and energy exude from every angle.

There isn’t a static spot in the exhibit. Both sculpture and paintings are always energizing, always surprising, beckoning the viewer into a sea-like realm of contorted trees, mysterious caverns, floating beings.

Having followed Ms. Curtis’ work for many years (25!) I can bear witness to a steady transition, edging towards an ever richer exploration of surface and complex use of color. Her painting technique has become both more gestural in some areas, and jewel-like in others. The fresh energy of Curtis’ brush strokes is visible alongside layered, gleaming highly developed areas of pattern.

The gallery is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 AM to 2 PM and Tuesday, Thursday from 12 PM to 6 PM.

Top Sculpture: Detail of Ancestral
Bottom painting: Nature's Wiles