Contributed by Sharon Butler / The latest scientific report issued by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms that the climate is changing widely, deeply, and rapidly. Having read the report and pored over numerous charts and graphs, and with Hurricane Henri bearing down on Long Island and southern New England, I began to think the members of the NYC art community who left the city during Covid might have made the right move. Where would I go if living in NYC becomes too challenging? The Catskills, the Adirondacks, and northwestern Connecticut are all on the list, and this week I added Vermont. During a quick tour of Burlington, and Montpelier, I discovered a few smaller towns, and, in the southern part of the state, Manchester, where Benjamin Ward recently opened Stella Quarta Decima, or SQD, on Main Street. The gallery will feature artists, primarily from Vermont, who work outside the confines of the commercial art market. “Anticipation,” the inaugural exhibition, includes six very strong artists.
Kate Burnim’s fine paintings divide the Vermont landscape into evocative color, geometric shape, and structural line, with quirky attention to surface. If Richard Diebenkorn had lived in Vermont instead of San Francisco, he might have made pictures like this, and so I wasn’t surprised to learn the Burnim studied painting in the San Francisco area.
Matthew Monk’s elegant abstraction explores the asymmetrical grid through shape, line, collage, and analogous color. Monk was a graphic design professor at RISD for 20 years before joining the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, where he now serves as academic dean, and his aesthetic reflects a design sensibility. Utilizing the ephemeral detritus from daily life, his pieces present a calm, neutral oasis amid polarizing chaos. Forms, receipts, paper bags, and handwritten lists peek through thinly applied paint, gentle reminders that the quotidian is what really makes a life.
Hannah Morris’s paintings introduce enigmatic narratives to the mix. In Skyscrapers, she rethinks the titular concept, depicting clusters of small box-like buildings on extremely tall stilts. The paintings are diptychs, and sometimes the scenes continue from one panel to the next. The scale of the buildings and figures within the picture plane recall Flemish printmaker and painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525–1569), but whereas his paintings reveal the activities of the townspeople, Morris’s bend towards obscurity, as if to suggest that we don’t know what we’re doing, that our stories are a mystery.
Lynn Newcomb explores various materials, and here presents a black and white print and two abstract tabletop sculptures. The sculptures are made of wood and metal, and the print looks like a velvety lithograph. For Sentinel, Newcomb wrapped a forged steel belt tightly around a 20-inch length of wood. Placed in the display window facing the street, it does indeed seem to be standing guard, alert to the street while protecting (and announcing) the contents inside.
Jamie Rauchman is the only artist I was familiar with before my visit to SQD. He used to have a studio in NYC, in Morningside Heights, where I visited him before he moved up to Vermont. Whether painting the figure, still life, landscape, abstraction, or some combination, the versatile Rauchman remains, as he has always been, a skillfully exuberant painter who spills his love of life onto his canvases. The vivid paintings on display have a touch of Charles Burchfield’s landscape weirdness – pointy clouds, undulating brushwork – but they belong completely to Rauchman, who has found an engaging new subject in the hills and farmland of Vermont.
Diane Sophrin is both an artist and a writer, so it seems fitting that she works with ink on paper, printed on both front and back, then hung in scroll formations from the ceiling and stacked on a low table. Her reductive visual vocabulary comprises circles and earthy colors like brown, ochre, and black. The repeating circular shapes have a weathered quality, indicating that her process involves considerable editing, and perhaps a measure of anxiety. She divides her time between a quiet studio in Montpelier and an artists’ community in Budapest, where she was unable to go this past year. In her artist’s statement, she observes that “a year later, with life still being defined as a present continuous, I nevertheless sense that there has been movement, although the direction remains an unknown.” She speaks for many of us, whether in New York, Vermont, or somewhere else.
“Anticipation,” Stella Quarta Decima, 3568 Main Street, Manchester, VT.