Who Knows Who: How Connections Came Together

Who Knows Who
How Connections Came Together

The exhibition, “Connection: the Art of Coming Together”, presents a survey of contemporary Vermont art organized by artist networks rather than aesthetics or media. As an experiment, I asked four artists or professionals from different corners of the state to submit the name of an artist they feel is part of their community or network. I then went to those people and so on until we had enough people to fill the exhibition.

In Northwest Vermont, I selected Carol MacDonald because when I think of Vermont artist networks, I think of her years of working as a community organizer. The spiritual overtones in Carol’s practice, the use of totems and symbols, makes her choice of Gail Salzman a logical one. When Gail makes a painting, she engages in a meditation of sorts, engaging with the paint, reflecting, reacting. Gail selected Jessica Scriver in part because she admires Scriver’s ability to employ detail and structure in her paintings while holding onto a sense of lyricism. Jessica thinks big when she paints, as if she is viewing the planet from the atmosphere. Jessica chose Linda E Jones, who does the opposite. Linda paints cells gathering together, the intimacy of biology. I asked Janie Cohen, director of the Fleming Museum of Art at the University of Vermont to select an artist and she chose Matthew Monk, the academic dean at the Vermont College of Fine Art and an artist she met while at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson for Vermont Artists Week.

I started with Erika Lawlor Schmidt in Southwest Vermont because her large collages show a keen sense of how things relate to one another. I’ve also been impressed by her work with Stone Valley Arts in Poultney, which will be exhibiting George Bouret’s photographs later this summer. George selected Gabrielle McDermit because he feels like more people should see her work and, in turn, Gabrielle selected Mary McKay Lower because she admires her work as an art educator and thinks Lower deserves more recognition for her painting.

From the Northeast Kingdom, I selected Keith Chamberlin because I appreciate his eye for things that often go overlooked, how a gas station reflects in the window of a house, for example. He chose Meri Stiles because he admires her dedication to artmaking and her willingness to put mental machinations out into the world. Meri’s Buddhism helps her appreciate the contemplative nature of Linda Bryan’s photographs. Bryan’s project, photographing the citizens of Newbury, speaks to a value for community that Thea Storz shares. Storz’s Kirby Quilts are love letters to her town. They tell a story using photographs the way quilts and tapestries have used patterns to tell stories for centuries.

In the Southeast, I asked Danny Lichtenfeld, director of the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center to select an artist and he chose Charlie Hunter because he is “unabashed about being a landscape painter and rebels against what people think about Vermont landscapes.” Charlie shares this view with Susan Abbott whose bright, bold paintings eschew nostalgia. Abbott paints power lines on the coastal highway because it’s honest. Neil Riley strives for a different kind of honesty in his painting; a truth of the eye, something painters have strived for centuries to achieve. It’s a similar truth in Joseph Salerno’s paintings where the Wood’s Edge is not necessarily the truth of what we see but the veracity of what we feel.

In old art traditions, artists organized themselves by aesthetic tradition, in workshops and studios. In modernism, every artist is an island. Relationships are not limited to master and apprentice or peer in a rival studio. Two artists may collaborate extensively on projects or exhibitions, share styles, and teach each other or they may have entirely different approaches to artmaking. Nevertheless, these relationships form an unseen web of connections that bring people together in a spirit of fellowship and support. To know these connections is to know more of the story of contemporary art.

Image:
Boundary IV by Jessica Scriver
(24″x36″; acrylic and roving on birch panel; 2017)
Courtesy of the artist