Saturday, February 28, 2009

OPINION: What constitutes a conflict of interest in the visual arts?

We've decided to post one or two discussion questions a month. March question #1 is submitted by Marc Awodey. Responses will be posted as they are received and may be lightly edited.

One of the reasons VAZ was started is because
Art New England determined that Janet couldn’t review an Axel Stohlberg show at City Center in Montpelier because of her affiliation with the Art Resource Association (ARA), which curates the space. I'm both an artist and a
reviewer, and obviously don’t review shows I’m in, but I’ve also been sure not to review venues that represent my work. I ended my affiliation with Furchgott-Sourdiffe Gallery for that reason. But what about reviewing an exhibition at one of the colleges I teach at? What about discussing a venue whose director has purchased my work? Have you been in a potential conflict of interest situation, and how did you deal with it? The bottom line is - what constitutes a conflict of interest in the visual arts?
above: Exhibit poster for Wolf Kahn - Vermont artist and distinguished critic.

REVIEW: Amanda Franz at Langdon Street Cafe

   Montpelier’s premier counter culture hang out is the Langdon Street Cafe, and its visual art programming is generally strong. Paintings by Amanda Franz appear for the waning days of winter. Her seventeen watercolors, of which six are no more than 5” x 6” are bright and airy landscape based abstractions. She also presents eleven tenebrious, textural acrylic nocturnes.
   Many of Franz’s watercolors come from her The Space In Which Eyes Endlessly Open series. It’s a poetic title, and the visual poetry of Franz’s work makes her titles apropos. The Space In Which Eyes Endlessly Open #10 takes viewer’s eyes on a journey through rolling desert hills. In the foreground a band of indigo gives way to umber hills deeper in the picture plane. Franz skillfully modulates the intensity of her paint, letting it become progressively richer at it nears the horizon. It’s a high horizon, resting beneath an orange band of sky along the top edge on the paper.
  If #10 is a desert landscape The Space In Which Eyes Endlessly Open #1 seems to be from the arctic. It’s a vista of blues and white.  A distant pale mountain reflects onto an inlet, in the center right of the painting. A pale purple section separates the mountain from foreground blues, and Franz enlivens the piece by using complimentary yellows in her sky, reflected in the  body of water.
   Franz’s works on canvass are not quite as strong as her watercolors, but most still have engaging qualities, and she’s beginning to successfully refine an interesting personal aesthetic. The Mute Gravity Of Some Disquiet is a long horizontal piece with a bare tree 
silhouetted in front of a large moon at right. That You Could Give Up A Portion Of Your Eternity is less predictable - Franz found a chromatically richer palette with a bright yellow moon floating behind rough passages of textured green, blue and purple. The largest piece in the group, again with a full moon, has a wonderfully marbled silver, pale blue, and slate gray surface.
  The Langdon Street Cafe bills itself as a “worker run, collectively owned” cafe, but that’s not all that makes it unique. The cafe includes one of the few functional art vending machines in Vermont. The readapted cigarette machine had been christened the The Gladiator since it makes people glad, and it sells a variety of cigarette pack sized poems and object de arte to the delight of both art, and vending machine enthusiasts. visit the Cafe’s website for more information. 

Friday, February 27, 2009

WALKABOUT: City Market members gallery, Burlington

It' s just a wall, but it's a big wall. The current exhibition is a group of quirky paintings by Jason Pappas. City Market is a co-op and its members only shows rotate every month.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

OPINION: What makes art vandalism happen?

This is in response to a question submitted by Janet Van Fleet and posted on February 23, 2009. Further responses will be posted as they are received.

by Clair Dunn

Don't forget, we live in a country that has developed, over the last 60 years, a strong tradition of anti-intellectualism. With this comes a complete lack of respect for creativity and individualism and also the idea that if you can't understand "something", or, if "someone" is significantly different from you, those things or people are of no value.

The great dichotomy in this country is the constant boast of our national strain of independence and individuality and the equally constant disparagement of independent individuals.

Of course those who destroyed Van Fleet's work don't go through these thought processes, but, because they live in a society where elected representatives often denounce the NEA, where music and art are among the first cuts in a tight education budget, and the word "elite" has become a very satisfying put-down, they have absorbed the essentials by osmosis.

So, as a nation, we too often destroy what we either dislike or cannot understand. In so doing, we feel like we've made a positive, cleansing, contribution to the society we want.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


by Robert W. Brunelle JR

In order to see this more clearly, click on it for a larger, clearer image.

We welcome submissions of cartoons that comment on the visual arts!

Monday, February 23, 2009

OPINION: Is there a Vermont style or styles?

This is in response to a question submitted by Sam Thurston and posted on February 12, 2009. Further responses will be posted as they are received.

By Riki Moss

To consider that there is a Vermont style implies that Vermont’s painters relate to their landscape differently than those in, say, the state of New Hampshire; that art is in someway defined by statehood, rather than a state of mind. Even raising the question makes me nervous and feels - my students used to love this - very last century.

So what's very this century? Our culture has just yesterday been jolted awake with the realization that our species is devouring its own habitat and that it may be too late. Our hunger for technology has separated us from everything in the world that is not human - the ground, sky and plant life, the animals, water and air - severing the bonds with that which provides the very nourishment we need to exist. We are no longer part of the natural world: we rule it, and we rule it badly. We have devalued our own currency. What we depend on has become expendable. Surprise, all gone.

What's an artist to do? Do we sink into despair or polemic? Or do we keep up the illusion that (like the market) the environment will self-correct and we keep on painting pretty pictures? Neither? Both? Something new?

The current show at Mass MoCa entitled Badlands, New Horizons in Landscape posits a “next chapter in the landscape tradition” as artists express their hunger for a new cellular connection with all that is not human - a desire to experience it directly, to be it, grieve with it, rather than regard it from the middle distance. Badlands refers to “an area filled with both inhospitable conditions and immense beauty,” while simultaneously suggesting a landscape that is in very bad shape indeed.

From the catalog: the show “…. opens the next chapter in the landscape tradition, addressing contemporary ideas of exploration, population of the wilderness, land usage, environmental politics and the relativity of aesthetic beauty. Badlands comes at this critical time, an era when the world is more ecologically aware yet more desperately in need of solutions than ever before.”

image: Anthony Goicolea, Tree Dwellers, 2004 from MassMoCa's website

I don't see any Vermonters amongst those exhibiting artists. Most of them seem to be from New York or LA or Philadelphia. But here in Vermont, we’re looking down the same well and drinking deeply. More about that in another posting.

OPINION: What makes art vandalism happen?

Question submitted by Janet Van Fleet
Responses will be posted as they are received and may be lightly edited.

An issue that keeps coming back to my mind has to do with vandalism of artworks. This is most commonplace in outdoor installations, where I think perhaps some people have the sense that what's outside is fair game. If you left it lying around, it belongs to the community. I am particularly interested in reading perspectives that may help explain the motivation to vandalize. Is it a kind of collaboration? Is it a political act?

Here is a case from my own experience, and only one example of many times my work has been vandalized:

On the night of September 25, 2005 my large sculpture, Teapot Dialogue, was destroyed by vandals in front of Café Piccolo in Burlington, Vermont. The piece, which had been awarded second place for Art Hop outdoor sculpture, showed two groups of wooden teapots facing off over a line on a dining room table (see piece and then its remains at left).

My response was to post (see at right) a statement headlined CONVERSATION NOT OVER, stating, in part:

I find it significant that this happened on the weekend of massive anti-war protests in Washington, D.C. and across the country, continuing a (rather one-way) dialogue about how our country should respond to violence, destruction, and perceived and actual threats.

Also on this weekend, my daughter, Anna Berrian Eno-Van Fleet, was evacuated from Golden Meadow, Louisiana, where she had been working (through Veterans for Peace) with the United Houma Nation to repair homes that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina. While the tribe was evacuated to Raceland, Hurricane Rita wiped out all the work they had done and completely destroyed several communities. So, another story of destruction. What can you do?

I went on to suggest that donations be sent to the United Houma Nation Relief Center, and finished by saying

Something cruel and completely gratuitous happened to me in the destruction of my artwork, but I am not interested in vengeance or retaliation. I would rather continue the dialogue by doing something positive that works to repair what has been damaged. I hope you will join me.

Many donations were sent to Louisiana, but the issue of vandalism and the questions it raises are still with us. If you have thoughts about this, send them along.

Send your responses (at least 100 words please -- we don't want you to just toss off a one-liner) to

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WALKABOUT: The Waskowmium

by Janet Van Fleet

Mark S. Waskow is an art collector on a grand scale. He owns many thousands of artworks, most of them by Vermont artists. These works are housed at two residences and four other spaces that are exclusively devoted to storing and displaying the collection, which is known (at all its various locations) as the Waskowmium. He would like to create a non-profit public institution to permanently house this treasure trove, but while he's working on that project, he keeps on needing to find space for the collection in its present form.

He recently moved some of his collection to a new location in Burlington when development pressure drove the rent in two of his spaces too high. I spent a few hours this morning photographing the space for a catalog he is creating, and, while I was at it, took a few shots to share with readers of Vermont Art Zine.

In the hallway outside his space, Mark has hung large paintings, drawings, and mixed media work.

Inside the new space are artist books, works on paper, 3-dimensional work (primarily, but not exclusively, by Vermont artists), material related to the Vermont arts scene, and other art memorabilia. This place is chock-a-block with vitrines, cases, sculptures, publications, videos, artist-decorated chairs and flamingos. It's really overwhelming to see this much art -- and to realize that it's only a drop in the bucket of what's out there stored in artists' studios.

In addition to art, Mark collects all kinds of paper having to do with art and artists in Vermont – catalogs, invitation postcards, posters, and artist portfolios. He has between 1,000 and 1,200 artist books, almost 3,000 zines, and at least 5,000 art books. This is a tremendous resource and a wonderful archive that will preserve the history of the visual arts in Vermont.

And here's Mark himself. With all the energy this man has, it's going to take more than a small fire extinguisher to put out his fire.

OPINION: Is there a Vermont style or styles?

This is Sam Thurston's response to a discussion question of his we posted on February 12, 2009: Is there a Vermont style or styles? Further responses have been posted as they were received.

Interstate Winter by Elizabeth Nelson
acrylic/photo on canvas 10" x 10"

by Sam Thurston

There are indeed lots of Vermont landscapes but I do not see a Vermont style there. The Mary Bryan landscape style (at least until recently - I have not seen the most recent show) does not look especially "Vermont" because the landscapes shown there have much the same style whether done in or outside of Vermont or by Vermont residents or not. I also do not see a Group of Seven similarity to Vermont landscapes. To me the group of Seven is more in a symbolist style while Vermont landscapes seek realism, however selective. Marc Awodey's landscapes do not look especially like Vermont so I am not including him in the above analysis. But to try to understand the Vermont landscape style - I guess there must be a Style there - it is such part of Vermont and our experience - I could mention Liz Nelson, who paints a lot of Vermont landscapes. She seems to accept the Romantic nature of her vision of the land and tries to nail it down realistically - but then she can not keep the lid on - and her unconscious plays a major role and the work loses its starting point which is to be more tied to the real. This is especially the case with her night landscapes. Perhaps that points to a Vermont landscape style.

If I took a stab I might say Cheryl Betz and Alexandra Bottinelli show one example of a Vermont style. Their work, more abstract than realistic, has a very inner approach. It seems to grow out of the winter isolated rooms we often inhabit up here. Even when, in the case of Bottinelli, the work is social or even a little goofy, it does not have the "wink,wink, get the joke?" quality of big city art. Isolation keeps us from that type of thinking. I am proposing isolation as a style factor. This idea grows out of Clair Dunn's post.

Monday, February 16, 2009

REVIEW: More than Bilingual at the Fleming

By Riki Moss

Every time I wander through the Fleming Museum in Burlington, or have a conversation with its director Janie Cohen, I'm struck by the delicate balance of its role as a teaching museum with its intention to engage the public in a dialogue with contemporary art. To this end, the museum is participating in what it calls a resurgence of painter-poet collaborations by showcasing one between Peruvian-born visual artist William Cordova and African-American poet Major Jackson , a UVM faculty member.

"What's wonderful about collaboration is that it gives us an opportunity to have cross-genre conversations around ideas, large ideas that are important to us," Jackson said. "There's the sense of this melding that happens, even at the level of the poem or the visual art."

This from the website: The artists find inspiration and common ground in music, literature, and the urban aesthetic. Cordova's mixed-media drawings and his installations of discarded stereo speakers and record albums allude to modern urban subcultures as well as to his memories of Peru. Jackson's poetry explores race and language, and ways in which language can both perpetuate cliched attitudes and foster new ways of thinking. Individually and collaboratively, their works celebrate and critique how cultural territories are dispersed, redefined, and transformed in urban settings.

In the Wolcott Gallery More than Bilingual: William Cordova and Major Jackson
January 27 - May 10, 2009

On Wednesday, Feb. 18th 6 PM at the Fleming

A panel discusion with the artists and Joseph Falconi, Art Forum Curator at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University; and Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions.

In conjunction with the exhibit and part of the poetry series:
On Wednesday, February 25th 6:00-7:30 PM
Jim Schley and Greg Delanty,

Sunday, February 15, 2009

REVIEW: Galen McDonald "National Reservation."

Galen McDonald,
Muddy Waters, Burlington. "National Reservation" paintings.

by Marc Awodey

Muddy Waters on Main street in Burlington, next to Nectars, has been a major cafe venue for years but its exhibition efforts have had mixed success. It’s recently been curated, however, by the elusive artist known as “Mr. Masterpiece” - Lindsay Vezina - who is one of the area’s best painters in his own right; and the shows have been getting markedly stronger. Labeling, and exhibition durations remain quirky so although the current show Galen McDonald’s "National Reservation" exhibition of new figurative painting is scheduled to be up till 2/23, don’t be surprised if it’s up longer. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
  McDonald says his works are informed by global culture. His concerns are mostly manifested through portraiture. The 8 large scale acrylics on unstretched canvas present a range of faces - soldiers, children, men and women - from around the globe. He has a confident, even brash, drawing style influenced by the best of contemporary comic book art more so than Degas, or Michelangelo. That connection to pop culture serves to remind viewers of the globalism of our times and the interconnectedness of the whole human species.
    Paint layers are applied thinly, and as in stain painting, McDonald lets hues soak into his canvasses, and the palette is reduced to essentials - phalo blue, yellow ochre, napthol crimson, and decisive dark lines of varied weights. His crowded compositions also reflect the din of human interactions in disjointed narratives that are more ambient than specific. In one presumably untitled piece, soldiers in khaki, berets, and helmets are interspersed with dogs. The canines seem like pit bulls, and if the painting has a title - albeit unposted- it may well be The Dogs of War. Other McDonald paintings are less easily decipherable, but no less satisfying to investigate.
   And the coffee at Muddies is good too.

OPINION: Is there a Vermont style or styles?

This is in response to a question submitted by Sam Thurston and posted on February 12, 2009. Further responses will be posted as they are received.

By Anna Dibble

I agree with some of the others who have posted – If you look through the timeline of Vermont’s art history, landscape painting predominates. How could it not? The Landscape in Vermont predominates, and overwhelms almost everything else. We have a lot of fantastic landscape painters – past and present, as well as a lot of mediocre and terrible ones. Landscape paintings will always be a major ‘Vermont style.’

I think, however, that Vermont’s art ‘style’ is changing, and in my view that’s a good, long overdue thing. There seem to be more and more artists in the state that are bucking the landscape system. It’s a lot easier to sell landscapes here – especially if they are more or less realistic – than other ‘styles.’ Our economy depends on tourism, and many of the tourists want to buy art that reminds them of the beautiful landscapes they saw when they were here. But I’ve been noticing that the taste of the tourists is evolving, and the art in the state is reflecting this change. Many visitors in the 21st century have more sophisticated taste in art, and are delighted to find imaginative work in painting, sculpture or photography that is very different from the landscape style they more or less expect when they come here. Let’s move in that direction! Even with landscapes! Vermont’s new Eclectic Style reflects Vermont artists’ special lifestyles, and a certain independence that has always existed in this state.

P.S. In response to some of the posts, it doesn’t matter if a Vermont artist was born here. Even the Woodland Indians were flatlanders. People get too hung up on this subject.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

OPINION: Is there a Vermont style or styles?

This is in response to a question submitted by Sam Thurston and posted on February 12, 2009. Further responses will be posted as they are received.

By Clair Dunn, Vermont Photographer

I think strong and definable "styles" come from artists that are in close contact with one another. Focussed either on the same subject or the same technique. As Marc mentioned, the Group of Seven is a prime example. Another, though with different inspiration, was the group of impressionists in France at the turn of the 20th Century. They were in love with light on the landscape. It would be quite hard for a particular style to arise in Vermont I think, for the simple reason that we are so separated. Working in our private hovels with our own agenda. Sadly, we are not likely to run into one another on a daily basis during our coffee breaks. Nor meet in the evenings for raucus and drunken arguments and philosophical discussions!

Friday, February 13, 2009

OPINION: Is there a Vermont style or styles?

This is a response to a question submitted by Sam Thurston, and posted on February 12, 2009. Further responses will be posted as they are received.

By Marc Awodey

When I first read the question by Sam Thurston I immediately thought of the best of Vermont landscape painting, and I wondered if responses to our environment paralleled the fine art of eastern Canada (as seen in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts), especially the historic Group of Seven. But that’s probably because I’m a northern Vermont artist, more oriented in that direction than to Boston or New York City. In my art critic capacity (and in just being visually aware of what’s around) I also see many Vermont exhibitions every week: from Burlington cafe shows, to the Vermont Supreme Court lobby, to Lois Eby’s current show at Johnson State College, to the NVAA at Bryan Gallery. So getting past the theoretical - I guess the answer is simply NO. There is no overarching Vermont style. I would add though, that the premise suggesting style exists regionally at all may be a false notion. Not all Chicago artists in 1980 were self consciously figurative. Not every young New York City artist of today is dripping with irony. True, there are plenty of aqua colored kitsch paintings in Florida, fishing boats in Gloucester, and paintings of kachinas in New Mexico - but tourist oriented art anywhere is typical of the worst of Vermont’s sap bucket paintings. Eclecticism, is probably most indicative of the sum total of critically informed art everywhere in Western civilization.

Lois Eby, Moment of Blues, 10 5/8 x 10 5/8 in., acrylic on linen, 2007

OPINION: Is there a Vermont style or styles?

This is a response to a question submitted by Sam Thurston, and posted on February 12, 2009. Further responses will be posted as they are received.

By David Fairbanks Ford, director of The Main Street Museum

"among over a hundred pieces, i can think of exactly 8 artists born and raised in the state of vermont represented in the main street museum collection:
ada hodgeton (mid 20th century paint-by-numbers)
robert waldo brunelle
al comi (from barre. terrific dog paintings)
frank leonard (my grandmas uncle, and artist and musician who ended up in the brattleboro retreat...)
sigrid lium (from concord, VT. pastels and paintings)
jack rowell
able slayton early 19th c oil-paintings
fred tuttle (not an artist...or wait, was he?)
frederick tewksbury (late 19th c oil-paintings)
*and perhaps steven perry painter, brattleboro, VT, but i dont know where he was born 'n raised...

the others in our collection, even those that we call "vermont artists": ria blaas, peter thomashow, ed koren, and--i might ad--sabra field (whose work the msm Does Not include)--were born out of state. but then again, so was ira allen, and he drew the original drawing of the state seal. pine tree, cow and all! lets hear it for all those vermonters from CT, brooklyn, or switzerland (M Kunin comes to mind...and her daughter julia IS an artist, but lives in manhattan...)
perhaps all the vermont artists move to nyc and the ny artists move up here. . .

but, why so few "vermont" artists? even tho we spend more per captia on public schools (well, guess i just answered my own question, didnt i?)"

WALKABOUT: St. Johnsbury

by Janet Van Fleet

This is the first WALKABOUT piece for Vermont Art Zine. The idea is to take a camera with you as you do an Art Walk or visit a new town and check out its art chops. Collect cards, take a few notes, and voila – everybody gets to go on the trip with you!

My first stop in St. Johnsbury was 190 Eastern Avenue (right, on the bottom floor, behind the Do Not Enter sign), the Gatto Nero (black cat) studio/gallery of Kim and Bill Darling, which features intaglio printmaking. There were signs in the window saying they’ve got a show up now including themselves, Jesse Kaupilla, Bruce Peck, and Twin Vixen Press’s Briony Morrow-Cribbs and Helen O'Donnell. It was about 1 PM and they weren’t open and there were no hours posted, so I gather it must be open by chance or appointment.

A brief walk down Eastern Avenue brought me to the new Catamount Arts space (right next door to their old space), in the big, imposing Masonic Hall. The Masonic Lodge gave the building to Catamount in return for a no-cost lease in perpetuity of the top floor, which will continue to be used as the Lodge meeting place. The bottom two floors, which opened in October, 2008 after extensive renovations, now feature (in addition to two movie theaters, classrooms, and other appointments) a large gallery that can be configured for multiple exhibits.

There were two shows in the gallery (running from February 2 - 28), one with work by Sachiko Yoshida (above right, with many watercolors, often featuring finely-observed hydrangeas) and an exhibit of work by Alan Arnold entitled Prelude to a Dream (a movable partition separated the two exhibits). Arnold’s colorful work was not titled or labeled, and was hanging salon-style. In a statement he described himself as a visionary artist, and said he had an affinity for “primitive art.”

In a nearby space by the elevator, an exhibit of stained glass by Elizabeth Robbins presented (along with a few other pieces propped up in a nearby deeply-recessed window) an entire alphabet of glass panels that were painted with a technique that involves mixing glass with minerals or metals, adding a binder to fix the pigment, and firing, sometimes many times.

Around the corner on Railroad Street I checked out the Backroom Gallery of the Northeast Kingdom Artisans Guild, which mounts a new show every six weeks or so . Symmetries has pen and ink drawings by Ellen Dorn Levitt (who has taught digital design, printmaking, and book arts at Lyndon State College for 16 years) and selected works in clay (see right) by Ann Young (an artist from the northeast kingdom who works in ceramics, wood carving and painting). The exhibit is up from January 17th - February 18th.

Interestingly, I had been looking at the website of a gallery called Sunday in New York City earlier in the day, and Ellen Dorn Levitt’s paintings (such as the one above) reminded me of paintings by Richard Tinkler who was, I think, Sunday’s first exhibited artist (Read the text about how he creates them; I found it fascinating). Maybe New York and Vermont have a lot in common, art-wise!

OPINION: Is there a Vermont style or styles?

This is in response to a question submitted by Sam Thurston and posted on February 12, 2009. Further responses will be posted as they are received.

by Robert Waldo Brunelle JR. , president NVAA

While researching my little book about the History of The Northern Vermont Artist Association I made the startling discovery that very few "Vermont" artists are actually Vermonters! Although I can trace my roots in this state back to 1750, most of my fellow NVAA'ers, both past and present (including the founder of the NVAA, Harold Sykes Knight), hailed from what we old Vermonters called "down country". They were, and are, all flat landers!

I suspect the reason most of those transplanted Vermont artists paint bucolic landscapes is because the landscapes back in their native lands have all been paved over. "Vermont is what America used to be" as the bumper sticker says, and all those urban sophisticates from the big city come here to ski, fall in love with our precious countryside, and decide to move up here when they retire. Which is why Vermont may have one of the highest per capita populations of artists, making it a rather competitive market. Vermont is a great place to make art, but a hard place to sell it!

I suppose the "Vermont Style" would be all about nostalgia. Artists who want to make cutting edge political statements using all the modern art techniques eventually find themselves shipping their work to New York City. Art that is sold around here is for rich tourists to hang over their designer sofas back home

Thursday, February 12, 2009

REVIEW: Bill Ramage: Drawings

Flynndog Gallery, 208 Flynn Avenue Burlington, Vermont
January 9 – February 28 2009
by Marc Awodey

In his solo exhibition at Burlington’s Flynndog Gallery Bill Ramage challenged
assumptions about drawing to include monumental works up to forty feet long.

He also skillfully integrated a broad range of media including oil sticks, graphite, colored pencil, and charcoal. His collection of several monumental installations was perfectly suited to the copious wall space of the Flynndog. The Castleton State College professor’s show, simply entitled “Drawings,” married esoteric conceptual roots with his proven technical virtuosity.
Ramage’s nearly incomprehensible three page artist’s statement, however, inadvertently suggested that the artist is as much a mystic as a brilliant technician. His 8 foot tall by 40 feet long The Centripetal Gates of Kiev was a remarkable abstract panorama of overlapping grids, crosses, and beautifully defined and colored circles. To Ramage centripetal “means to move or tend to move toward a center” which is indeed a simplified explanation of the concept of centripetal force in Newtonian physics. But how that force relates to the actual massive drawing is far from obvious. Like William Blake, Ramage’s writings surly make perfect sense to himself, but don’t need to be wholly understood by others in order to see the vitality of his visual art.
The David Bohm Quintet - five easy Holomovements was a group of five 84 x 84 inch mixed media drawings running along another forty foot expanse of gallery wall. They have rich backgrounds dominated by blue lines running
through deep red fields. Perfect white circles, each larger than the picture plane, swept across the five drawings unifying and enlivening them. Spheres containing measured cruciform elements and brightly hued squares containing organic forms were spaced across the entire instillation. Ramage’s mark making is highly diverse, and the varied pictorial elements of each drawing were executed in subtly varied ways. Ramage’s stated concern for curving space in a manner that defies liner perspective is best seen in The Appolonians, Raphael Giotto Pollack. The 6 x 18 foot triptych. dated 2002, seemed to superimpose flat floral forms in three diamond oriented squares over a lower hemisphere defined by fine lines and a matrix of small blue crosses.

Ramage may be ultimately concerned with how large scale works effect perception. But whatever his concerns, they are beautifully manifested in a fascinating body of work.

OPINION: Is there a Vermont style or styles?

Question submitted by Sam Thurston
Responses will be posted as they are received and may be lightly edited.

Is there a Vermont style or styles? In the past people have been able to point to regional styles in the U.S. - for instance the West Coast figurative style of Diebenkorn, Park and Bishoff, the Regionalist style of Wood and Curry or the Chicago Hairy Who expressionist style of Nutt and Golub for example. So, if there are Vermont styles, how would they be described?"

Send your responses (at least 100 words please -- we don't want you to just toss off a one-liner) to

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

REVIEW: Little Stories: Assemblages by Axel Stohlberg

Capitol Grounds Café, 27 State Street, Montpelier
Through February
by Janet Van Fleet

Cultural critics have noted that in places like Bali the arts are seamlessly integrated into all social functions and venues, while western countries have confined the arts to concert halls, theaters, galleries, and museums. Happily this appears to be loosening up a bit, and we can now find music on the street and art in cafes and airports.

Capitol Grounds Café in Montpelier is almost always packed with people – singletons writing on their laptops, small groups of friends chatting, parents and grandparents with children. Here Axel Stohlberg, one of the area’s most talented and prolific artists, has mounted a bit more than a dozen assemblages that riff on the life of the café and enrich it at the same time.

The Little Stories of the exhibit’s title feature small figures (rarely more than two inches high) set on columns, plaques, or weathered chunks of wood, in paper and wooden boxes, with eggshells, teacups, and writing implements thrown into the mix. The labels with title, price (all are $50) and date are library card pockets, humorously referencing the literary theme.

Fun and wit are in long supply here, as Stohlberg engages in a vigorous variation on themes. Eggshells nestle in the compartments of a 5x7 cardboard grid, each egg featuring one word (or space) from the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty pasted into its curved shell. In Repair, a workman urges a polished white sphere prominently printed with the letter E back into a broken eggshell. A little plastic baby crawls into the sheltering cove of a brown eggshell.

The vessels used to hold coffee and tea appear in at least three of the assemblages – some whole, some broken, and some with teabags clinging to the rim. In one, the label on the bag’s hang-thread says (on both sides):

Bread and
water can
so easily
be toast
and tea

Writing implements are another subset. Nineteen pencil stubs march like soldiers across the top of a back-cover library discard. In The Writer, a toy truck transporting an ink bottle stops at the edge of a wooden cliff whose face holds a red fountain pen.

More charming tales of love, loss, and life in Vermont:
  • Dragging My Heart presents a mustard yellow car towing a big rusty chain attached to a shiny chrome heart.
  • In Weighing Time, a woman teeters on top of a box littered with the faces of watches and small clocks, holding a balancing bar whose ends are also watch faces.
  • And finally Snow, Snow, Snow: A tiny man with a snow shovel stands on a white column, endlessly but cheerfully shoveling, an everyday-Vermonter’s sports trophy, perhaps.
Axel Stohlberg deserves an Art Trophy for his many years of mounting confident, energetic, intelligent exhibits of paintings, drawings, assemblages, and sculptures in both great and small venues. We raise our double cappuccinos to him!

Monday, February 9, 2009

REVIEW: Pastel Explorations at Gallery North Star

Grafton, VT
February 7- March 8, 2009
by Mick Petrie

The show “Pastel Explorations” is unified by the medium the four artists share, and demonstrates the range of approaches seen in recent years with pastel painting’s resurgence as finished fine art. These four artists give a quick tour of the past and future of pastel painting.

Richard Gombar’s pastels (left) look very much like his work in oil. He has long painted barns reduced to simple shapes with strong colors, and brings the same sensibility to his landscapes.

Robert Collier (right) is the most traditional artist in the group both in technique and subject matter painting soft pastoral scenes with light strokes of pastel. His work is dreamlike, evoking a mostly vanishing landsape.

Lucy Petrie PSA (right) brings a stark, modern approach to the still life with single objects in spacious settings. Her work is highly realistic with strong contrasts of light and dark with her subjects rising from nearly black backgrounds, or casting long shadows.

Robert Carsten PSA (below) is well known for his luminous, sometimes whimsical paintings of fruit, but here presents sharply rendered landscapes showing the level of detail and complexity possible in the medium. In addition he has a series of intensely colored abstracts loosely based on close-up photos of freight trains.

There is a full-color show catalog available from the gallery.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

SHORT: The Art of Action Project

by Riki Moss

The Art of Action Project Review Committee has announced the ten Finalists who will receive commissions to realize the projects they proposed. They are Susan Abbott, Gail Boyajian, David Brewster, Annemie Curlin, Phil Godenschwager, Curtis Hale, Val Hird, Kathleen Kolb, Janet McKenzie, and John Miller.

Here's a video of all twenty finalists from whom the ten were selected. This beguiling, utterly generous project asked the question: what is Vermont’s future as interpreted through artists? All the chosen painters - with perhaps one photographer - answer with exquisitely rendered, more-or-less straight forward visual narratives deeply rooted in community or landscape. No abstraction here, or art-for-arts-sake, or heavy symbolism, political angst, fragmented imagery,ugliness or despair.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

REVIEW: Bennington College Advanced Student Print Show

Vermont Arts Exchange, Bennington VT
Through February.
By Bret Chenkin

The Vermont Arts Exchange has been a consistent venue for up-and-coming artists for many years. The space is perfect for it — with its high ceilings, bright lights, and accessible wall space. The recent show of Bennington College student work in printmaking is a testament both to the creative tradition at that school and the versatility of the medium. What it also set out to do was expose students to all facets of the art world; they were assigned the task of preparing for the entire exhibit, right down to the hors d’ouevres. Of course, in the art of this generation, the stamp of Warhol, Holzer, and the postmodern penchant for playtime is easy to detect (Selome Samuel, for instance, makes rather prosaic declarations in boldface print on large sheets about the stock market). Some works evince lackadaisical craftwork that is a mortal sin in such a exacting art form we should not be able to see the attempt at applying the print to a base; or one should not draw on the plate when drawing is not their forte, but overall, some talent, or potential, is emerging.
Liz Metsheimer works with photogravure transfers of Italianate, possibly Venetian, architecture, repeating the image of arches and portals for a mysterious effect. Sometimes she has two buildings converging, collapsing perspective, and creating a surreal version of a typical textbook photograph. Andrew Murdoch's Untitled in Blue allows indigos and midnight blues to combat, blur, and bleed over the entire print; evoking an almost caustic line at its edges. He follows the quintessentially modern tendency of expressing amorphous themes in aquatint and line etching. One ambitious artist, Zoe Chevat, created an enormous print of some scale entitled We Continue to Fail which she hung from the ceiling and can be accessed visually from two sides. Todd V. A. did a nice series of etchings intricately rendered and intimate in scale, his Components are like little cells of abstract life.
Overall, this was a heartfelt exhibition by students exploring the gamut of printmaking.

Prints posted are out of an installation of 36 by
artist Margaret Rizzio.

Monday, February 2, 2009

REPRINT: Hugh Townley "Against the Grain"

The Fleming Museum, Burlington
Through March.
by Rob Hitzig, reprinted by permission from his blog.

I recently went to the Fleming Museum in Burlington to see the Hugh Townley show. Hugh taught art at Brown for many years and retired to Bethel, VT in the late 90's. He died last year and the Fleming was kind enough to put together a retrospective show. I had seen his work a couple of years ago at the (VT) Governor's Office and was very impressed so I'm glad to get to a chance see more of it now.

His work is influenced by his many trips to India as well as other world travels and by Native American culture. I'm not sure what all the symbols mean or what they represent, I just think they look cool. I also like how his work is simultaneously both primitive and refined. For the most part, he leaves saw marks on the wood, not bothering to sand and smooth the surfaces, and his shapes often look rough as well, like he was just winging it as he made them; but he combines a complicated series of shapes together and everything fits perfectly. It gives you the sense that there was a grand plan before he started but at the same time it is very playful, designed like a child's puzzles but with texture. They look like he had a lot of fun making them.

Upon entering the museum there is a sign that asks visitors to ask permission to take photographs, which I dutifully did. The permission giver wasn't available and I was told that someone would get back to me, which they never did, but since I followed the instructions (the sign didn't say I needed to receive permission) I figured it was okay to take some images.
This one above, is unusual in that it is made with obiche, an African wood. Most of his sculptures are made with mahogony, often with very large boards that you would have a very hard time getting these days. This one is also unusual in being pretty small, about 18 inches wide. I think it is one of the early ones of this style so it was probably a bit of an experiment. It is titled, "Dark Night - Tuba City." Why did he use a light wood if it represents a dark night? Don't know. What do the pieces mean? Don't know. He seemed to use arrows a lot, they must have meant something to him but I don't have a clue what it is.

These 3 are early pieces (1950's?) The one in the middle has the same "rounds"
on the back side of the opposite half. They remind me of the two piece recliner chairs
that are made in West Africa, only without the seat part. He did travel to Africa at some point but not sure when or how often; maybe he was familiar with those chairs.

This one (below) was made after the death of Willem de Kooning and is named after him,
"deK is Dead."
They probably knew each other, being about the same age. I assume “deK” was a nickname his friends called him. There is a paint brush in the lower left corner, you can also make out a table and maybe a can of paint. It is an interesting 3-d monotonal painting made with wood rather than paint. Definitely more painterly than sculptural.

This one, "A Brief History of Haley's Comet," was completed in 1984, around the time of Haley's last visit to our section of the solar system. I like his use of wormy mahogany in the lower section.

The piece in the middle (at left) is also one of his early sculptures. A fun use for a big block of oak. Maybe it was designed as a handy storage space for salad forks? I especially like the plywood pieces seen in the background. They were part of a series done most recently. As he carved through the plywood you see the bold grain patterns and black glue lines. It gives you a new perspective on construction grade plywood. The painted wood piece to the right is also a relatively new piece. I wonder why he started experimenting with color, most of his work is very monotonal, maybe grandchildren?

REVIEW: NVAA Annual Juried Members Show

Bryan Memorial Gallery, Jeffersonville
February 1 – March 15, 2009
by Janet Van Fleet

The Northern Vermont Artist Association (NVAA) is an artist membership organization with a long history; NVAA had its first exhibit in 1930. For many years NVAA has had an annual members show at the Bryan Memorial Gallery in Jeffersonville. This year, the gallery has mounted two big NVAA shows – a historical exhibition of NVAA members’ work in the front gallery, and the annual juried members show in the rear gallery (see image at left).

The Bryan Memorial Gallery is an institution that focuses on work by (and like) its founders, Alden and Mary Bryan, and their contemporaries – primarily Vermont landscapes, still lifes, and genre paintings. Such works predominate in the annual members exhibit, with a few notable exceptions, the first and foremost being three Aesthetic Machines by Robert W. Brunelle, Jr., the NVAA’s President.

Brunelle is known for his highly-saturated acrylic paintings, and as I stood in front of Aesthetic Machine 1 (right), I imagined that bits of one of his paintings had flown off the canvas, KAZOWW, appropriated a third dimension, ZOOP, and KACHINK, assembled themselves into these delightful, compact visual operas. You can even change the scene by turning knobs and cranks that are marked with a small pinhead. But of course such things don’t really happen by magic or intergalactic artmaking, and while he was waiting to participate in a Roundtable before the opening reception, Brunelle revealed that he cuts the elements of these amusing machines from foamcore, and that he got the templates for the gears (seen at left, on the backside of Machine1) online.

Another surprise was new work by Dorothy Martinez. In addition to two familiar (and, as always, excellent) abstractions (including Winter Blue, below left), she offered a more figurative landscape called Water’s Edge (below center). Further surprise: the Bryan has a small gallery in between the two main galleries that offers cards, books, and groups of work by artists they have identified as good sellers – including Dorothy Martinez. This little group of her work (below right) refers to the landscape quite clearly. And it is displayed across from a section devoted to (hot pink cityscape) paintings by Wendy James.

But back to the NVAA show. Among many Vermont scenes seen from a distant vantage point, I was drawn to some pieces with a more intimate perspective on the Vermont landscape. Here are a few:

Marilyn James, Walk inthe Woods, oil

Jane Shoup, Morning Light, pastel

Bradley Fox, Waiting for the Weekend Celebration, oil

Carol Norton, Underwater Flower, watercolor (sorry about the reflections)

Marcia Rosberg, The Rush of Spring, oil