Saturday, August 13, 2011

REVIEW: Art in the Park in North Bennington

14th Annual North Bennington Art in Park Show
Part Two: The Paintings

by Bret Chenkin

For the 2nd year in the row, the North Bennington art show featured a cavalcade of local painters in the North Bennington train station. Called the Train Station Gallery for the show, this quintessential Victorian marvel offers much light and space to the benefit of the paintings exhibited. Jillian Casey of the Forum Gallery selected the exhibitors and organized the presentation.

Many names from last year's show are on the bill – Ann Pibal, Amy Podmore, Colin Brant, Pat Adams, Paul and Anima Katz – as well as a few newcomers. Some sculpture is also on display both in and around the building. As with the sculpture, there is a democratic sampling but almost all the artists are very well established, many with gallery representation. Casey had her hands full for sure, but she deftly filled every wall imaginable, and her sincere sentiment captures the real tone of this show's focus: "It's a pleasure to work with these artists that are not only extremely talented but also genuinely possess a desire to give back, support and further teach this rural area that has always been so culturally and artistically rich." And she could not be more right, for there is an artistic richness to this output.

Although sculpture was primarily featured outside, some smaller pieces are showcased inside. Before walking in, for instance, one encounters Jon Isherwood's bulbous form, Inner Sense, carved from a yellowish stone with rosy streaks, set on bronze plinth; in size and appearance it resembles an African basket. Once inside, in a commodious front room, well-endowed with ample light, Amy Podmore's Mark takes central stage, with two bone white plaster-cast hands sanctified by Klein blue dots (like inverse stigmata) rolling across a white floor (they are connected by toy rubber tires) making a Zen-like calligraphic mark on a flat grey surface: it leaves one wondering about art and spirituality and the idea of the hand in all that.

Tom Longtin's geometric construction of angled wood beams, resembling an elongated mental puzzle game, also occupied the floor. Teru Simon's poignant Self-Portrait at 40 and Matt McGovern's fired vase were strong example in clay. One more sculptural work that straddled painting and conceptual art was Daniel Richmond's meditation on storytelling, biography, and myth -- an homage to a friend's experience with a puma in Vermont -- that was drawn in sand on a driveway and over time disappeared. Longtime participants Elaine Witten and Gregory Smith also exhibited their respective works.

What is interesting about the types of visual art shown is that in an age dominated by photography and prints only two such images were featured: Kevin Burbriski's forceful portrait of a Nepalese Buddhist boy in large format photograph dominating a gallery room (one sees every scar of this boy's life in exquisite detail) and a lithograph and pigment print, Untitled, by Thorsten Dennerline, that had two creatures swirling about that might have emerged from Hans Bellmar's world.

Everything else was painting, and more fascinating was the preponderance of landscapes. I do not know if this has to do with a collective penchant for a halcyon past, or the geographic power of this region's beauty, but almost a dozen paintings had some connection to the land. Viola Moriarity did an interior woods scene of Shaftsbury stream that channeled Twatchman , while Brian Campion, Stella Ehrich, Barbara Sussman, Evan Wilson, Tony Connor, and Judith Kniffin all depicted some aspect of Vermont's natural splendor in various seasons. Wilson's snowscape, a theme in melancholy blue, was nicely rendered. Colin Brant also contributed a work in this key, The Proud Robin, rendering the red-breasted woodsy denizen atop a stump, with vegetation that appears to be a nod to Heade. Evan Wilson's other contribution was a large Frostian moment, The Apple Pickers, a pastoral with figures relishing the bounty of an apple harvest, whose garb and demeanor could place them in a Hardy novel, or in a Vermont community farm today.

There is certainly something for everyone in these rooms: a bit of art history kookiness in Anima Katz's "Breakfast on the Green" (a wiggly reconfiguring of Manet's infamous picnic scene), a focused depiction of entomological life after chloroform in Leslie Parke's giant The Collection, a meticulous study of water and sky in a linear composition of blue and black with Ann Pibal's Pool (V. 3), oversized portraits (John Recco’s La Teanesa and Lara Sorenson's Lakshmi) that in their scale and coloration become unintentionally creepy, and two Biblical scenes playing off of abstract expressionism by Renee Bouchard. Interestingly, Pat Adams's Go No Further, a serene study of repeating rings in a melancholic green, and Katherine Porter's Arachne, a softly modeled view of a web as hushed filaments and rubbed moments, can also be considered oblique connections to landscape.

Andy Spence and Mary Lum were missed this season, and one knows many other artists from the area could be in those rooms too – but that is for next year. The question comes up to edit or allow freedom to reign, and Philip Wofford's hectic electric neon Glyph, with crunchy paint globs and stacked canvases, makes a resounding vote for freedom. But I recommend a gate keeper stay in place.

Images from the top (photos by Fred X. Brownstein): Amy Podmore, Mark , plaster, chalk, mixed media
Foreground: Bob Howe, Frost/ Paran Bridge and Norton Kennedy, Tree study #4, watercolor; Background: Matt McGovern, Fired Clay Vase and Phillip Wofford Glyph, mixed media on board
Jon Isherwood, Inner Sense, travertine
John Recco, La Teanesa, oil on board
Leslie Parke, The Collection