Monday, February 13, 2012

ESSAY: Rita Fuchsberg at Carving Studio and Sculpture Center Gallery, West Rutland

by Joan Curtis

Rita Fuchsberg, ROCK-A-BYE-BABY
February 3 - March 11, 2012

The Carving Studio and Sculpture Center gallery in West Rutland currently hosts Rock-a-Bye-Baby by painter Rita Fuchsberg, who divides her time between Poultney and New York City. The show is an idiosyncratic array of colored-pencil portraits. The repetitive compositions show infants (and very young children) rising upward out of organic settings.

Fuchsberg states that in her mind, she is opening a dialogue about the Earth in general -- wondering what the children would feel if they knew “they are coming into a destructive world -- [that] for them the future is limited.”

However, in most of this series of sixteen pictures, the infants communicate positive feelings, or even joy. Viewing the imagery is an uplifting experience. The babies, floating in a protective environment, mostly seem astonished and amazed at their new world; a few are a little fearful, but most are filled with poignant wonder.

The artist sees the swaddling backgrounds as continuous for the whole group: i.e., all the babies girdled by the same substance. Instead, to this viewer, each background seems custom-designed for each baby personality. Some settings refer to landscape and water, others to fabric; still others seem to map female-anatomy innards (some viewers saw fallopian tubes).

In explaining the work, Fuchsberg, now in her 60s, states that she had never felt maternal longings until recently bonding with Miko, the infant child of a Poultney neighbor. This startling development prompted her wish to draw portraits, some of which are of real-life individuals while others are out of the imagination. “In some way they are my children. I wanted to capture the maternal feeling while it is still with me.”

The artist, who owned and ran the now-defunct Foxhill Gallery in Poultney, is known for her strong, large, visceral collages and paintings. She cites the major influence of Philip Guston. Abstract treatment of figurative images is what we expected from Fuchsberg’s work in the past: strong in rich color and raw textures; often provocative in content and imagery. A major piece that could have prefigured the current project is Ladies in Waiting, a large-scale grid wall piece (1999) shown internationally in three cities: portraits of women on death row.

For the Rock-a-Bye-Baby project, Fuchsberg knew she could not achieve the desired detail without a medium more fine-tuned and controllable than paint -- thus the colored pencils. Indeed her technique with the pencils is extraordinarily descriptive; the eyes of the children are riveting in a way that elicits emotion in the viewer, reminding us -- especially
because of of these armless beings sprouting out of a nether world -- of the unusual attraction humans feel toward baby seals. The exquisite faces loom toward us, some not unlike fisheye lens pictures.

Rita Fuchsberg is private and protective about her art, seeming to struggle mightily before successfully arriving at her goal. It is only on rare occasions that we are able to see the results. The Carving Studio exhibition is her third solo show in Vermont. It is a privilege to see the original and eccentric work of this fine artist.

The Carving Studio gallery is at 259 Marble Street, West Rutland. (The primary Carving Studio buildings are further down the street toward the marshes.) The gallery will be open Fridays (1-6 PM) and by easily attained appointment. It is suggested that visitors call ahead (802 438 2097) in any event.

images above: The Missing Piece. Colored-Pencil Drawing.
below: The Dunes. Colored-Pencil Drawing.