Friday, October 21, 2011

CURATOR'S ESSAY: Creating the Inaugural Exhibit at the Gallery at Phoenix Books in Essex Junction

We welcome essays by exhibit curators, describing how they came to choose artists and work for a particular exhibit, placing the work in context, and saying what they hope audiences will experience and enjoy. – Ed.

Curator's Essay:
Creating Our Inaugural Exhibit at the Gallery at Phoenix Books

by Kristin Eaton

When Mike DeSanto, the owner here at Phoenix Books and Cafe, announced that we were officially launching The Gallery at Phoenix Books, I was thrilled. What could be better than spending my working hours surrounded by books and fine art? We all chimed in on which artists we’d love to see on the walls for our Grand Opening, with Mike making the final calls. We wanted our inaugural exhibit to showcase the quality and range of artistry in our community, and ended up with an exhibit featuring Cubism and photography, graphic art and Impressionism, pen-and-ink on paper and oil on canvas.

Rick Evan's Page 100 Comics are ideal for a gallery-cum-bookstore. Rick takes commissions for these black-and-white pen-and-ink drawings based on page 100 of (almost) any book. A few samples hang on our wall, along with some of his other work. I'm a big fan of their clean lines and bold panels, especially in Page 100: Sabriel. Rick has a brilliant knack for expressions: Sabriel's as she contemplates climbing a seemingly-endless stairway, a dragon's combination of serenity and ferocity in Page 100: Dealing with Dragons, the grandson’s full-body grin of victory in Page 100: Northern Borders. These are beautiful and evocative pieces in themselves, but it’s intriguing, too, to see how Rick adapts the written material to a visual medium: which actions and bits of dialogue he keeps, which images predominate.

Jonathan E. Russell's pieces range from a Cubist landscape (Mother Nature's Wild West) to an extreme close-up of a rose (Pink Rose), to his almost Futurist Elements series. Bold color choices and dynamic shapes are present throughout; those shapes invite your eye to roam throughout the piece and appreciate the painstakingly-executed color gradations.

Jonathan - in his own words - "uses abstraction and focus to help people really see the natural world:" "Mother Nature's Wild West" depicts a sunset behind rolling hills, but also a reclining woman. Pink Rose focuses so intently on the spiral formed by the petals that I'm drawn in by this innocuous but alluring painting. Fire, Water, Ice, and Light (members of Jonathan's Element series) use simple color schemes to emphasize repeated curves or angles that evoke the element in question. Fire and Water would work beautifully as a pair, as would Ice and Light.

Karen Dawson's landscape paintings share Russell's bold palate, but her works are all swirling lines that almost look as though you could dip your hands into them and come up with your fingers streaming paint. Tall Grass Orange Sky II is a perfect example of this, particularly the namesake tall grass in the foreground and the green-blue-purple trees in the midground. Her color choices are vibrant and - delightfully - a tad surreal, as in Wells Beach with Surfers, where the much of the sand is bright yellow and pink. My particular favorite is RT 2, Fishing Access Area, in which a gnarly tree dominates the foreground, its red and orange branches shooting up like flames.

To look at Joshua Mower's photography, you wouldn't know he's a student at Essex Middle School. His work in this exhibit includes both landscapes and closeups - of , say, a monarch butterfly or a Polyphemus caterpillar. The latter, bright green against the mottled browns of a stone and what looks to be a forest floor, is particularly charming. You almost expect the little guy to to light up a hookah! Blue Dragon depicts a dragonfly on silver fabric. The dragonfly’s body cuts across the frame on a diagonal, head down, the texture of the wings playing against the texture of the material. Joshua exhibits a true natural talent and a keen eye for capturing the moment.

Daphne Tanis paints with a loose brush and a pallet that includes a lot of blues and purples. She depicts peaceful, almost contemplative, country and waterside themes. The latter are my favorite, especially when water dominates the foreground. In Morning at Perkins Cove, for example, those trademark loose brush strokes mimic the motion the water's surface beautifully. Her other landscapes are equally charming: Mount Mansfield from Irish Settlement captures both the clean lines of the snow-capped mountain and the soft green landscape below. These scenes are lovely reminders of New England’s capacity for timeless moments.

This exhibit opened on Foliage Open Studio Weekend, and will be up through the holidays. We also have up an exhibit featuring the imaginative work of Kristin Richland and Karen Witt, as well as a rotating exhibit by members of the Essex Art League. With this wide variety of subjects and styles (not to mention prices, with many original pieces between $50-$150), we hope our inaugural exhibit will serve a triple purpose: to give Phoenix’s wonderful patrons a taste of original local art, to welcome the area’s art fans into Phoenix, and to expand the reach of the artists themselves into a new community. Selfishly, meanwhile, we’re thrilled about the way this artwork enhances and energizes the physical space here at Phoenix. As Mike has said, “It is quite transforming.”

Images: Page 100 Sabriel by Rick Evans, Pink Rose by Jonathan Russell, RT 2, Fishing Access Area by Karen Dawson, Polyphemus by Joshua Mower