Matter at Hand: Current Exhibits at SPA

by Matthew Maitland Thomas

Sculptures by Giuliano Cecchinelli.  Courtesy of

Sculptures by Giuliano Cecchinelli.
Courtesy of

BARRE — Art that flows directly from the environment of its maker is uniquely bewitching. When that environment, that natural context, is our own, our bewitchment becomes exhilarating, as our immediate world ripples with possibility — every familiar stone a statue, every bit of trash a component of a collage, every glance out of the window an elegy on the passing of a season. Currently exhibiting at Studio Place Arts in Barre are three artists who reshape the everyday into objects and images that delight but also give pause for deeper reflection on the surrounding world into which we are thrown.

Rock Solid XVI, by Giuliano Cecchinelli, is on display in the main floor gallery. Born in Carrara, Italy, in 1961 Cecchinelli immigrated to Vermont where his father worked for the Vermont Marble Company. After graduating from high school, Cecchinelli went to work with his father before moving to Barre to work for the Buttura & Sons Granite Company.

It is with Barre Granite, the local substance, that Cecchinelli makes much of his sculpture. The many pieces on display run the gamut from representational works, such as a bust of Lyndon B. Johnson, to pieces more concerned with movement. Although the figurative pieces are exquisitely made and mesmerize with their exacting details (Cecchinelli’s haunting “Three Phases of Life” stands out in this category), it is the latter that seduce the eye. In “Once Upon a Rock” and “Repose” Cecchinelli charms fluid action from the rock. Both pieces, featuring figures reclining on their backs so dramatically it’s as though they are wrapped supinely around the curvature of the earth, perform a kind of contortionist’s hypnosis. The figures achieve rest in a heightened state of ecstasy, as though they’ve somehow found stillness in the throes of orgasm.

That many of these pieces were conjured from local rocks by an artist who has spent his life working with local rocks, like his father, only adds to the pleasure of the experience. Granite dominates Barre. One won’t go long before encountering a quarry or a slag pile, granite shed, wholesaler’s warehouse, family connection or memory. We can take a cue from Cecchinelli’s eye and imagination and peer into the deeper layers of our immediate surroundings and there, below the surface, find beauty.

“In Our Hands,” by Shannon Lee Gilman, is on display in SPA’s second floor gallery. Repurposing discarded materials such as wrappers and garbage bags, Gilman makes pictures of strong color and architectural complexity. Her palette is vibrant, bold and loud, but not in such a way as to over stimulate, or overwhelm. Considering the context of their construction, Gilman’s pictures are celebrations of recycling. Where the practice has focused on utilitarian goals, Gilman finds aesthetic bliss through recycling. These pieces are playful. The bright, solid colors of packaging (designed, in their first life, to seize our gaze in cacophonous supermarkets, where shelves are riots of text and design, all intended to manipulate) are here reconfigured into objects of nature. “Baby Albatross” and “Pineland Passion Flower” are two particularly exquisite examples of Gilman’s splendid reclamation.

“November” and “Solstice to Equinox,” by Paul Calter, are on display in the third floor gallery. “November” comprises a series of landscapes, captured in morning and evening, in November. The pictures, Calter says in his artist statement, were inspired by the vistas he encountered during his morning and evening commutes. The stronger half of this series renders light viewed through the silhouetted skeletons of dormant foliage. The contrast between the muddled luminescence of the November sky and the sharp foregrounded objects is striking. Harvest time has passed, but before the light, before commencing the pale fade into winter, still holds traces of its summer vibrancy and vitality. But those traces are more idea than actuality, vanishing notions, of warmer, lusher times. “Solstice to Equinox” is a repetition of the view from Calter’s study window. Each piece was painted in fifteen minute bursts. The results of this exercise open a window on the space behind the artist’s eye, but also on the perceptual framework of human wonderment. No two pictures in this series are the same, and all feel like they were dictated largely by mood or emotion. In some of the paintings the landscape is tighter and more well-defined. In others, the view from Calter’s window is a riot of color and shape, and it’s left to the viewer to excavate the physical subject. Calter’s work contemplates the apparent, but illusory, fixity of things. As the only beings (that we know of) capable of marking and mourning our own transition into afterlife or oblivion, depending on one’s belief, we have the nervous, insatiable hunger for the richness of what we shall never again see. Calter reminds us why we are so stirred by evanescent things: although the spell is cast, these things — light filtered through bare branches, sunrises and sunsets, drifting clouds — have already passed us by.

Cecchinelli, Gilman and Calter’s work will be on display through November 5th at Studio Place Arts at 201 N. Main St, Barre.

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