Tuesday, September 6, 2011

REVIEW: Nancy Storrow at Catherine Dianich Gallery in Brattleboro

by Arlene Distler

After a couple of weeks of emotional turmoil brought about first by the purported murder in Dummerston, then the Co-Op tragedy, I don't know that I've ever experienced the salutary effect of art the way I did walking into Nancy Storrow's show at the Catherine Dianich Gallery.

My heart, my head, the very cells of my body went, "Aaaah." I felt a great lifting among the winged and metamorphosing creatures of Storrow's pastel paintings.

The work included in Revisiting Bare Ground, with the exception of two small sculptures, is two-dimensional work in pastel on paper. Colors are of earth and sky - elegantly gestural lines and swathes of peacock blue-green, cobalt, wine red, umbers and black.

First shown in Brooklyn at A.I.R. Gallery this spring, an early women's collective where Storrow has been showing for 30 years, the work was executed over the past several years.

I had seen the New York show, and while there was a lot of clean, white-walled openness, allowing for more sculpture, there is an intimacy in the Dianich space that is lovely for this group of work.

Storrow's comment about showing both places: "In New York everything is about pushing boundaries. My work felt mild there. Here, it seems like my intimacy with nature pushes the edges." The abstractness of Storrow's work, its delving into the energy of the natural world, more than reproducing the seen, can be challenging to viewers. But a challenge, in my view, that is richly rewarded. In allowing oneself to let go of the need to see what's known, one can enter into mystery. This, I believe, is Storrow's invitation to her viewers.

I love the triple--quadruple--entendre of the title Storrow has chosen for this show. The "ground" of a painting is the base, primary layer of a work. That is often sizing (gesso) or some other undercoating. In the case of Storrow's work, the pastel is laid on plain, bare paper. The artist, in her written statement uses the term "ground" as starting point: "Starting with the bare ground--as a place both of exploration and discovery, I work intuitively, connecting lines, colors, and forms."

It would seem to refer as well to the rich earthy tones of the artist's palette (pastels are loosely ground pigment). For all the etherealness of many of the paintings, I had the feeling standing before some that I was looking below the earth at some elemental living thing, quivering in its dark earthen womb.

These more dense earlier paintings, such as Offshoot, had been in an earlier show titled Bare Ground. The work has changed over the past few years from pod-like forms drawn by intersecting lines, or dense clouds of color and line that coalesce into matter that is microcosm and macrocosm, to the conjuring of a magnificent "lightness of being." Storrow says, "My work changes slowly. One thing follows another." The process itself is organic.

The most recent paintings have "taken off" from the earlier work. The marks have become fewer but are more evocative, in my estimation…hold more, emotionally and spatially. What Storrow has accomplished is akin to a jazz musician who no longer needs to play every note, whose pauses are as full and resonant as the chords.

There is a breathless, fluttering feeling to these newer paintings. The eminences have struggled to be born and now beat their wings, exultant.

Some Songs deserves its spot in a stand-alone placement across from the entrance to the gallery, framed in an alcove. Multiple "events," as Storrow calls them, hover and buzz around. For me, these events have a being-ness; smaller versions of same, the "offspring" are attached by what seems like invisible umbilical cards. There is a music, quirky and atonal, and at the same time sweetly harmonic. In the visual rhythms, a dance.

Beyond and Land, among my favorites in the show, are high-wire acts of mark-making and color that are almost breathtaking in their delicacy and pulsating aliveness.

A graphic aspect of the paintings that I find particularly effective is the bands of deep or pale blue, wine red, umber or turquoise. They can be seen as stripes on the body of a hovering, humming bee-like form, but they work so well as a graphic component that emphasizes the two-dimensionality of the painting, the fact that what one is looking at is, in essence, "an exploration…of lines, colors, forms," taking place with paper and pigment.

Nevertheless, Storrow's work must also be taken in on the level of metaphor… the chrysalis-like shapes in paintings of the recent past have released their winged apotheosis.Her new work is charged with an urgency, a poetic evocation of spiritual aspiration. How we need this now!

Revisiting Bare Ground is held over through September 9th and will be open for September Gallery Walk.

Images: Some Songs, Land, both pastel on paper