by Matthew Maitland Thomas
BARRE — Involving more than 75 artists, “Celebrate,” the annual members show at Studio Place Arts, is an explosion of local shape and color. Nearly every usable inch of the building’s three floors is covered with work by artists from Washington and Chittenden counties.
The pieces are grouped largely by color, which is intriguing, but can also be somewhat frustrating to the viewer who might want to experience a particular artist’s works together. Yet there is something satisfying and comforting about the sheer volume of work. It wraps around you, folds you into its contours. You will never be bored, as your eye will always land on a piece well worth your time, and little effort is required to get yourself lost — just keep your eyes open and walk. Moreover, the show is energetic, and the richness of the space, spilling over with lovely work, overcomes one’s desire for a little more editing.
Ralph Waldo Brunelle Jr’s block prints “Victorian House” and “Decrepitude” are standouts, unassuming though they might seem at first pass. In them, Brunelle teases shape from boundary in an almost Manichean way, if that philosophical construct might be appropriated here: there is white, there is black, and if you spend enough time with the pictures it’s almost as though one emerges from the receding of the other, as opposed to being created atop the other.
Heidi Broner’s “Runner” and “Bicycle,” acrylic on wood panels, capture snippets of time, freezing the motion of the subjects passing through those seconds, and present them back to the viewer in a splash of color that might go unnoticed in the actuality of such typicality. Refracted to the viewer through Broner’s contemplative eye and gentle hand, however, these scenes are given to day-dreaminess and one can almost hear the quiet of an empty place at midday, the vacuum disturbed only occasionally by the rustling of a jogger’s clothes, the air by a cyclist pedaling on to his immediate future.
W. David Powell’s “The Dodo, the Auk, the Emperor, and the Preparator,” a digital print, is like a gold-leafed fever dream. Clever and playful — a bird-headed figure clothed in Elizabethan finery — there is a silly dignity and stateliness to the figure in the picture. The contrast between the formal and the absurd, the longer one spends with the picture, bleeds away, leaving, once our notions of order have themselves been reordered so as to acclimate to the world Powell has created, an elegant system of complementary shapes and shades.
The highlight of the show is Alexandra Bottinelli’s “Reflections (Buttercups).” Made from beeswax, resin and found objects, the assemblage/painting gives the viewer the impression of looking at something colorful at a distance. This distance is not necessarily physical; rather, the distance is something more metaphysically gauzy, like memory, the drifting fog limiting clarity on the way up out of sleep, or a passing ghost that ripples ever so briefly one’s field of vision. Bottinelli teases us with the images beyond the veil, until we recognize that the veil and those colors and shapes which it obscures work symbiotically to keep us looking at one by way of the other, rearranging the foreground into the background, leaving us not frustrated but hungry for more of this deceptively calm painting’s vitality.
There are many more notable pieces in the show. Marie LaPre Grabon’s “Seated Model,” Karen Henderson’s “Notice,” and Kristen Schulyer’s lovely ornaments are among some of the best.
All in all, Celebrate is a solid show. It is busy and full, but there are more treasures than not, and one walks back out into the Vermont winter, to the sound of snow tires splattering along on Main Street, warmed and invigorated by the depth of imagination of these artists who are all around us dreaming in ways we non-artists could not possibly imagine but are so very privileged to behold.
“Celebrate” runs through December 30. Please see the calendar listing under Visual Arts on page 17.