December 31, 2014

art current: A Breath of Summer Air at the Caldbeck Gallery

by Britta Konau

I know, winter has only just begun, but I could already use more warmth, color and light. If you feel the same way - and if you enjoy good painting - I recommend stopping by Rockland's Caldbeck Gallery.

Their current show assembles recent and older works by Cicely Aikman, Elizabeth Awalt, Lois Dodd, Jeff Epstein, Nancy Glassman, Fred Kellogg, Kayla Mohammadi, and Nancy Wissemann-Widrig. All paintings are landscapes of some kind but range widely in the handling of brush and paint. As such, the show offers a very enjoyable, refreshing and informative overview of different approaches, emphasizing continuities of interest between artists working from observation and from imagination.

Glassman's works are closest to direct observation and most are titled with the botanical names of the flora depicted. Small oils on aluminum of berries, cherries and blossoms appear timeless, were it not for their fresh, close cropping. The 1950s palette of "Glauca Rose Hips," compositionally the simplest of the group, is enlivened by twigs that meander calligraphically against the pastel green background and is beautifully complemented by shiny red hips. The underlying metal supplies intriguing glints of light in Glassman's gem-like flower paintings. Their brushwork is vivid, confidently building up exquisite nuances of color, texture and material. On the other hand, the larger oil on panel "Amaranth" is more a vibrant, energetic field in which fore- and background are enmeshed, the central plant almost engulfed by teeming vegetation. Dodd, coming from a completely opposite direction, creates a quietly gorgeous "Coneflowers and Bee": just three flowers balanced dynamically across a richly varied green background, their orange and pink blossoms popping.

 

While Dodd and Glassman here present nature up close, Kellogg takes a longer view with two island vistas. Summer heat and humidity have blurred edges and partially washed-out color. These solid works are most remarkable, however, for their complex ordering of space into the distance. Whereas Kellogg's subjects are traditional Maine fare, Epstein has a superb eye for beauty in unexpected places. "Ruts" is an impressive strong vertical in which visual interest is horizontally stacked up and into depth like a scroll painting. From the ruts in the immediate foreground our eyes wander over wintery roads and fences to a farmhouse, barn, and trees farther afield. A master of his means, Epstein conjures this sliver of a rural winter scene with paint liquid, impastoed, and scratched into. In contrast to Epstein's taut composition, Wissemann-Widrig's paintings are broad water views, open and spacious. In the appropriately titled "Sea Calm," light impressionistically reflects off slight waves, with the water's transparency beautifully captured in the foreground. Wissemann-Widrig, too, is a virtuoso of the brush, using whatever movement necessary to create the desired atmospheric and descriptive effect, from straight strokes and forceful daubs to thin swirls and curling eddies.

 

Awalt expands on this gestural approach, applying paint loosely, pouring it, letting go of control to a large degree. In the large "Vernal Pool" this results in a luscious layering of lights, colors andforms to evoke a wild, spring fecundity. This pool is quiveringly alive, shimmering with liquid veilsof color. The two paintings by Aikman (1923-2013) are also riotous, but they are more Matissean,flat, decorative, with colors bound by lines into interlocking shapes. Aikman clearly enjoyedcoloring outside the lines, however, and stripes, dots and solid areas engage with unaffectedsymbols of flowers and more detailed renderings of animals to suggest all-encompassingsymphonies of life.

 

Mohammadi takes even more artistic liberties with the so-called real world than Aikman's stylizations. Her moonscape envisions the elemental forms of the scene - circle, horizon, triangularreflection - in a texturally and colorfully complex configuration that recalls stenciled street art.Mohammadi's pièce de résistance, however, is an 8 x 6-foot untitled painting, which I read as arejoinder to landscape painting. Against a quintessential rendering of a sea- or landscape (reddishhorizontal stripes topped by blue ones), a boat is stacked with colorful geometric shapes.Recognizable as Mohammadi's personal artistic vocabulary, these modernist forms glow from within, everything else being rather drab. In confident, passionate and wonderfully imaginativeterms, the artist's choices are thus placed within the context of a tradition especially strong in Maine - rescued from sinking in a sea of unremarkableness.

 

All artists are represented by very strong work that has been chosen in a meaningful way. Althoughcoming from opposite ends of the spectrum, from representation to abstraction, from completecontrol over brush and image to relative freedom, the paintings beautifully coexist and enhanceeach other. Ultimately, the show illuminates what we've known all along - that representation andabstraction aren't so different after all, just a matter of degree.

The current installation is on view through January 30, 2015, Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 4 p.m. and by chance and appointment at Caldbeck Gallery, 12 Elm Street, Rockland, 594-5935,caldbeck.com.

art current is a biweekly column written by Britta Konau. She can be reached atbkonau@gmail.com.

 

 

March 6, 2014


Caldbeck Gallery is pleased to exhibit the new work of Elizabeth Billings and Michael Sacca; the pair are the inaugural 2013 Artists in Residence to the George's River Land Trust.

Below is an excerpt from the George's River Land Trust Summer 2013 Newletter

"Meet Our Artists in Residence

Artists have long been inspired by the natural beauty of Maine, and the midcoast has a particularly long and strong tradition of place-inspired art making.  We are fortunate to have found a partner in the K2 Family Foundation that seeks to foster sustainability and create opportunitities for artists whose work incporates sicentific awareness and concerns.  And so it is with great pleasure that we are launching an artist-in-residence program!

The artist-in-residence program offers professional visual artists, performing artists, and writers the opportunity to pursue their artistic disciplines while being inspired by the area's extraordinary landscape.  The artists will have access to many of the Land Trust's holdings as a resource for creating new site-inspired or site-specific work.

Elizabeth Billings and Michael Sacca share a similar visual aesthetic, and approach their work from diverse vantage points: photography, cinematography and the use of digital media on one hand, drawing, gathering, weaving and installation art on the other.  Using the diversity of these techniques and the common ground of the Georges River, their goal is to visually portray the essence of the watershed and their connection to it through all four seasons."

Here's an excerpt from Elizabeth and Michael's blogpage  (billingsandsacca.comdocumenting their thoughts and work, season by season:

The Residency

Preserving wild lands and conserving our environment comes out of a deep connection with the natural world. Connecting to nature through a combination of digital imaging and work made by hand is the underlying concept of this residency.

Our collaborative investigation into the Georges River watershed concentrates on several Georges River Land Trust properties over the course of a year. Sharing a similar visual aesthetic, we approach our work from diverse vantage points: photography, cinematography and the use of digital media on one hand, drawing, gathering, weaving and installation art on the other. Using the expanse between these techniques and the common ground of the Georges River, our goal is to visually portray the essence of the watershed and our connection to it.

Our residency takes us through an entire year of observing seasonal changes in the watershed. In early December we made a visit to the area and identified the Gibson Preserve and Eagles Way Preserve as two potential sites for the residency work. The relative remoteness and large acreage of Searsmont and the expansive marsh, open woods and river access in Warren are rich with possibilities. We plan to continue to broaden our understanding of the range of properties as well as to walk portions of the Georges Highland Path and kayak portions of the Georges River.

The residency is composed broadly in two parts: the collaboration in the making and then in the exhibition of the work, both deeply exciting. Using our combined artistic techniques, we begin our outreach with a blog as a public journal/exhibition visually documenting our travels, reflections and thoughts. The blog allows and encourages regular and careful consideration of the progressing artwork. During the residences, we will invite the public and Georges River Land Trust members to local food potluck picnics on and beside the River and on other properties. In this way, we connect to the people and the food of the area and they to us. At the end of the year of visual exploration, our combined artwork and blog entries are edited together into a chapbook and an exhibition of the artwork, celebrating the watershed and the residency.
Red Pine-Scotch Pine

Warren white oaks trapezoid

We have spent years developing and honing our varied artistic techniques making visible our connection with nature. Having the singular focus of the watershed from two quite different artistic disciplines is both intriguing and challenging. A collaborative residency invites conversations to take place reflecting on the new body of work. This creates the potential to move our individual explorations more quickly and intensely. We believe taking this personal risk enlivens the work and allows for new creative paths.

 

Elizabeth Billings and Michael Sacca are the artists-in-residence for The Georges River Land Trust and K2 Family Foundation throughout the 2013 year.

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