The BMAC's New Spring Shows Play With
Stephen Knapp: Lightpaintings
Rainbows are magical. Whenever a rain shower bursts on a beautiful sunny day, I always wheel around frantically to make sure I don't miss nature's most ephemeral show. The first time I walked into one of Stephen Knapp's installations, I experienced the same spontaneous elation at seeing pure color spilling across the room as I do when a rainbow streaks across the sky.
Each lightpainting is generated by white light which travels across a series of cut and polished glass shapes that have been treated with layers of metallic coatings. The glass splits and reflects the light, splaying color across the surrounding environment. Overlapping veils of color create saturated blocks of color. Added to the interplay of colors are streaks of black, where the edges of glass plates or hinge mechanisms throw shadows. Then, when our eyes become accustomed to the darkness of the viewing area, our mind begins to integrate the glass plates into a composition.
As with abstract painting, I approach Knapp's lightpaintings with the same attention I give to music or poetry. This keeps me from being too literal in my interpretation and allows me to be open to sensations and emotions. Thus, as with music, I can experience the syncopated, lyric, or noisy, and as in poetry, I can enjoy that which is evoked but not described. - Mara Williams, Curator
Beth Krommes: The Poetry of Lines
A cover illustration by Beth Krommes offers a compelling reason for children, and adults, to choose a book -- and to open it, read it, and examine the pictures. Good illustrations like hers keep the young listener attentive, seeing the tale unfold visually while an older reader tells the story.
Since 1989, Krommes has been a freelance illustrator, creating wood engravings and her signature scratchboard drawings for magazines and picture books. Her latest book, "The House in the Night" by Susan Marie Swanson, published by Houghton Mifflin in 2008, was awarded the 2009 Randolph Caldecott Medal for Best Illustrated Children's Book.
Krommes's scratchboard drawings are replete with details and textures rendered in a rounded, simplified style. For example, in "Grandmother Winter," Krommes transforms circles into snowflake and star designs that she likewise creates in "The House in the Night" and other books. Similarly, the expressive spirals and curved lines that imply wind, water, or spirit appear in all of Krommes's picture books. The lacy blanket that Grandmother Winter shakes over the land to bring snow becomes, in "The House in the Night," a dark cover drawn over the land by the "bird in the book."
Some of Krommes's illustrations refer to the work of famous artists. The room depicted for the poem "Night Sky" in "The Sun in Me" pays homage to Vincent Van Gogh's well-known painting The Artist's Room at Arles (1889), and a representation of his "Starry, Starry Night" (1889) appears on the bedroom wall in "The House in the Night." The geese and patchwork landscape in the dark area that illustrates "all about the starry dark" in the same book are reminiscent of M. C. Escher's famous woodcut "Day and Night" (1938). - Susan Calabria, Curator
Lisa Hoke: Color Wheels
One of the great joys of viewing art is tussling meaning out of an object made by another human being. Central to this attempt is the object's physicality. Lisa Hoke requires viewers to invest a great deal of patience, attention, and participation to coax meaning out of humble, everyday objects. In this case, dozens and dozens of plastic cups -- transformed by puddles of gloriously colored paint -- swirl across the wall. Color and texture combine in a jazzy riff of harmony and syncopation.
Hoke's site-specific installation at BMAC offers an intense experience of color, but it also wittily references the most basic schoolbook conception of color, the color wheel. For most of us the color wheel is a schematic of how color operates on a scientific level. But color exists in the world of perceptual phenomena, personal associations, and cultural meanings. The frisson between these makes for a dynamic viewing experience -- at once playful and transcendent. - Mara Williams, Curator
"Much of my work comes from my surroundings, but it wasn't until I had an anxious excess in my life -- an endless supply of baby food jars -- that I realized sculpture can be about any material and any idea. You can take the simplest thing and find out what potential is locked inside it. I'm also an artist who loves three dimensions and the tensions inherent in pushing off into space, almost defying gravity. The wall offers a point of contact and a reaction. For me, the wall is the silent person in the room." - Lisa Hoke
In the past year I've found that a huge number of artists continue to be fascinated with toys. There is no shared style or "ism" in their approach; in fact, the artists are from various generations and cultures. The common thread is a connection to a class of objects most closely associated with children.
The work in Playing Around varies in form and intent. Several artists use toys as the subjects of their still life paintings. Other artists depart from the still-life tradition, while remaining firmly grounded in painting. Toys in these works are performers in the drama of the paintings. A rubber duck grins maniacally; a sock-puppet explodes; a stuffed clown cheers as toy soldiers attack one another.
Then there are the artists who continue to play with dolls. A once loved doll is discarded, then found -- dirty, broken, or squashed -- and reanimated through the alchemy of art. Other dolls in the exhibit are not playthings. These handmade figures of children are dolls in form only, and they provide very disquieting viewing. What are we to make of themes of prejudice, war, privilege, or sexuality juxtaposed with the notion of innocence implied by a supposedly beloved, huggable doll?
Comic books and animation (the Japanese forms being manga and anime) along with both real-time and edited video are exploited by a number of artists. As with the dolls, we find the commercially produced and the handmade -- reinventing and extending cultural forms.
Making meaning from the interplay of form and content embedded in work derived from mass media and from new media is dizzying -- and thrilling. What tales are being told? Are they new takes on ancient themes retold for a cybernetic world? Has a new world been discovered? Is it Utopia or Dystopia? - Mara Williams, Curator
Joseph Fichter: Winter Thunder
Working with the varied characteristics of found steel, Fichter imbues his welded metal horses with fluidity, strength, grace, and movement.
Copyright 2009, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont