FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 26, 2017
Contact: Tamar Russell Brown — 978.425.6290
Surprising, Innovative Works by Eight “Working Artists” in Group Show at Gallery Sitka East in Shirley
SHIRLEY, Mass. — “Realities: Stories of the Artistic Spirit” is a group show featuring a close-knit group of Central Mass artists displaying artwork of astonishing variety. The opening will take place on Sunday, Feb. 5 and will present the talents of Jerry Beck, Thomas W. Bradley, Jen Hemenway, Luann Hume, Colette Shumate Smith, David L. Smith, Sharon Thompson, and Tahj Laron Williams. This daring ensemble is reaching out to communities all around the area and inviting the public to join in the fun.
“We are all working artists,” says painter and ceramics specialist Colette Shumate Smith, describing the group as people who do all kinds of work to earn a living but avoid creating artwork for commercial purposes. They prefer to commit themselves to an artistic quest, not simply an attempt to sell out to survive as artists. In short, they’re passionately dedicated to their art and the considerable sacrifices it requires. They make the art they want to make, not art that panders to “trends and fashions and commercial fads.”
These artists are not afraid to experiment and improvise and even stir up controversy. Colette, for example, asks the question, “Should We Have Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?” with the title of one of her paintings. The picture portrays a man in a turban carrying a large rat on his shoulder. “I’m much more of a surrealist,” says Colette, emphasizing how faithfully she executed the details of the picture from her initial visualization of it, “right down to the whiskers on the rat.” Though the images come out surreal, the inspiration comes from our geopolitical reality of today. She asks the question about America’s military adventures in the Middle East.
Colette describes how the effects she is aiming at depend on glaze Raku firing. Her “Turtle Heaven” demonstrates this. The piece is a plate of pottery glazed in the greens and greys and blacks of a turtle’s shell. Perhaps in keeping with the title, this poor turtle is in heaven because his or her shell has perhaps been shattered in some grisly accident. The breaks are not jagged, but instead smooth, as if they’d been cut with a jigsaw. Her “Reverence for Paul” may remind the viewer of surrealists such as Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo, with landscapes weaving their way in between one woman’s face and a smaller, somewhat ghostly face — both seem to float in bubbles — while musical notation and a slice of Persian rug push their way in. Colette enjoys commenting on the state of the world but insists she does not simply want to document reality. Her choice of colors is often “sweet and mysterious.”
The artists also take off from concerns closer to home. Jerry Beck, founder of The Revolving Museum based in Lowell, shares his anxieties as a parent in his painting “Motorcycle Girl.” A young woman stands on an enormous motorbike wearing a cowboy hat and a surgical mask. A diminutive Bruce Lee stands nearby, as if he might be the girl’s bodyguard. A little “skyline” is sprinkled throughout the picture, although some of the “buildings” look something like the old NASA rockets (the Mercury, the Saturn, the Apollo) from the ’60s. Mr. Beck relates that the picture came to him amid the worries that began to assail him when his first child was born. “I began to develop fears about my daughter’s safety,” Jerry explains. The painting is an expression of the need he felt to protect the little girl.
Jerry’s work is as much a comment on the future as on the past. Colette points out how Jerry’s collages play with scale and color and how they convey strong emotion. Images of cowboys and Indians, alligators, circus tents and sundry hats dance across the picture plane. Somehow, Colette observes, all these elements fit into an inner artistic reality that makes sense. She adds that “Jerry’s themes have the stamp of reality that draws you in and then asks: ‘How are you going to get out?’”
The surrealist spirit is extensive among the Eight. Jen Hemenway’s “Untitled” is a drawing of an immense hot-air balloon that resembles a man’s head. (“He” is a male, one has to imagine, because of the little chin-beard he sports and perhaps also because of the enormous ears.) The little person in the basket of the balloon (the “pilot”?) seems to be having the time of his life. Jen’s marvelously colorful “Prototype Skateboard” portrays a face that is reminiscent of a skull from “El Dia de los Muertos” (“The Day of the Dead,” the annual Mexican celebration that begins, appropriately, on Halloween). The face reaches out and grabs us to get our attention. The skull is both frightening and comical at the same time.
Jen works on found objects and paints graffiti on them. A round table becomes a mandala wall hanging. A metal door becomes a comic strip page. She is a painter and has learned to control her reality by layering one image over another, working rapidly and with precision.
Sharon Thompson has been a key figure in the group. She opened her Studio Gallery at the time that the Leominster Art Center was closing. She has been curating shows, trunk sales, and a poetry group at her gallery. Her business sense and spirit, says colleague Colette, have been a great unifying force among many artists in the region.
Ms. Thompson admits that each member of the group is very different from the others, but they share an intense enthusiasm for their art. “We all have passion,” she says. “We know exactly what we want.” They all want to reach out to people in a powerful way, “to reach every crevice of the brain…every nerve-ending…”
Sharon paints with alcohol ink, a medium which produces extraordinary colors. She will have three works on display in the show. All are abstract-expressionist and at least two of the three are non-representational, with color and design following its own improvised logic in each piece. One is rather restrained, using subtle shades of blue and brown, while another brings in red, blue, green (and blue-green!), orange, white, purple, and a very mellow yellow. This last color does not manage to calm the others, which all seem to be competing for the viewer’s attention. Faces (which some viewers will see and others will not) seem to jump off the canvas. The picture lends itself to a subjective experience for everyone interacting with it. Another work seems to represent shards of clear glass. The colors — startling magenta and lavender — don’t respect the boundaries between each fragment of glass, but instead spread out across the whole surface of the painting.
Sharon’s son, Tahj Laron Williams, is a young fashion photographer who might present his work with the tagline, “Expect the unexpected.” Tahj is a rebel who often likes to shoot high-angle (looking down at the model) instead of low-angle (looking up at the model). Low-angle is the traditional way to photograph fashion, but Tahj wants to surprise his viewers, and does. He also likes to shoot in black & white, something of a breath of fresh air in today’s world of ubiquitous color photography. But his use of color is surprising too. One provocative photo introduces us to a model in dark blue leggings, dark blue sweater, and dark blue…lipstick! His unconventional approach makes his pictures decidedly memorable.
David L. Smith met his wife (our Colette) at Boston University, and the two have been companions for 30 years. David is a versatile talent, active in woodworking, sculptural wall pieces, etched glass, and other unusual media. His “Behind Bars” is a mix of the etched-glass portrait of a grim-looking sheriff whose face we see behind bars (of wood in the piece, although we might imagine them to be made of steel or iron). It’s intriguing, and a little frightening, that the viewer can’t quite tell if the sheriff is looking at us as if we are the prisoners or as if he is the caged one. David’s “Ducks in a Row” is a functional piece of furniture and a very playful piece of woodwork. The legs of this table sport the duck’s orange webbed feet at the base!
David’s working methods, Colette explains, remind us of materials and tools laid out like instruments in a surgeon’s operating room. He is not easily swayed from his original sources. His etchings on mirrored glass produce a reality in which the images are real but ghostly and softened. His portraits of famous and familiar faces makes a constant commentary on our society’s obsession with looks and personal vanity. These works draw the viewer in and then surprise us as we enter into the picture frame.
Luann Hume is a landscape artist working in pastel and watercolor. She has a traditional approach to painting in so far as she develops the surface step by step. She is known as “the birch lady” for the lovely New England birch trees she renders from the natural beauty of the scenery all around her. Colette points out that the trees are cropped and close up and her backgrounds add depth to the picture plane. Colors are vivid, and the light and shadow pull the viewer into the scene.
Ms. Hume’s landscape-painting colleague, Thomas W. Bradley, joins her in the show. The two bring a bracing sense of realism and naturalism to the rather more expressionistic work of the others. Mr. Bradley’s passion is to “capture the hidden treasures within the landscape,” scenes that we might ordinarily miss. While he’s a fan of landscapes that take in huge vistas, he prefers to seek out the quieter corners of the forest that may harbor streams and wetlands. These “intimate scenes” appear in works such as his “Visions in Red.” We can almost hear the delicate little brook that meanders through this densely wooded spot. But the gentleness of the scene makes the red leaves of one tree all the more dramatic. Surrounded by cool, dark green fir trees and the greenery at the water’s edge, this little red gem delights the eye. Tom is a native of this beautiful central Massachusetts country, where he has also worked for most of his life in the nursery and landscape industry. His mastery of pastels, sometimes layered as pure color on top of watercolor underpainting, makes it possible to effectively render the intense native hues of the area.
The group wants to ask the question: How does the artist create a work of art? What thought process does the artist go through to bring a work of art into reality? Colette sees the artists living in “a constant state of flux between creation, idea and reality.”
“Realities” will produce a booklet in which each artist will have her or his own chapter. They will wrestle with questions such as: What does it take to produce art? What sort of planning, obsession or deadlines play into the work? How do the demands of family life — a dominating reality for everyone — affect the work?
This event — the Opening Reception of “Realities” — will take place on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2 – 4 p.m., at Gallery Sitka East, 2 Shaker Road, D101, Shirley, Mass. The show will run at this location through March 18. The group will also hold a panel discussion styled as a “Lunch & Learn” session designed to bring the community together to share ideas about art. The event is set for Saturday, March 4, 1 – 3 p.m., at Gallery Sitka West, 454 Main St., in Fitchburg, Mass. The group suggests a donation of $8.00 per guest. Finally, The Eight invite the public to a Closing Party/“Art Hop,” 5 – 8 p.m. at Gallery Sitka East in Shirley, immediately followed by an opening for the Shataro Studio & Gallery at The Bull Run Restaurant, 215 Great Road in Shirley.
Adventurous art lovers will want to visit gallerysitka.com to learn more about the group show and the work of all these remarkable artists.