Open House, Saturday April 2 from 10- 5. Gallery Talk at Noon.First Friday Reception, April 1 from 5-8TRACE ELEMENTS
by Deborah McLeod
Deborah McLeod is an independent curator and arts writer, now living in Chestertown, Md. She has previously served as staff curator at the McLean Project for the Arts in McLean Virginia, the Hand Workshop Art Center in Richmond, Virginia, The Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, Virginia and the Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville, Virginia. She wrote bi-weekly art reviews for Style Weekly Magazine in Richmond, was a regular Virginia contributor to Art Papers Magazine, a national magazine out of Georgia, and has been published in Ceramics: Art and Perception out of Australia. She also writes essays on art for art catalogs.
Carla Massoni Gallery presents a group of six artists in Traces On view through April 30th
Being voyeurs to varying degrees, nothing is quite as engaging to most of us as opening an old box of private correspondence extricated from an attic corner; listening in on a phone call, undetected; or decoding a message intended to elude our grasp.
Traces, the current exhibition presented by Carla Massoni Gallery, touches on that human calling. This composite collection of artists is thoughtfully introduced at the door with three luminous photographs by Celia Pearson of unfurling Orchid and Lady Slipper blooms. Each represent a sense of the hidden wrapped in a finely veined tissue of expectation and hope (the latter, according to some translations, being the bottom-most thing in Pandora’s famous box after all of the terrors and uncertainties have hurried out.)
Up the stairs and further back are more of Pearson’s photographs, some of them feature her signature ocean findings: sea glass and shells. Pearson translates the ocean’s secret method in her work, reminding us of the dialogue between time and fortitude. In several of her works for Traces, she offers the viewer oystershells. Open like ears, but with a seashell’s constant promise of the ocean’s murmur inside, they leave us to consider the interstice between hearing and saying.
Marcy Dunn Ramsey’s paintings of marsh grasses are the most epic pieces in the show. Calligraphic reeds emerge from the water’s enigmatic surface to intersect and continue the reach of each co-ordinate blade. They are as equally like random impenetrable scribblings as they are the critical point flight plans of insects and airplanes, or a gaggle of algebraic lines on a complex graph – none of these similies being necessarily available to common knowledge, but each having a distinct methodology and a user. Because the paintings function so differently at close range than they do from a distance, Ramsey’s scenes contrast the idea of the intimate, nearly fragrant, familiarity of childhood encounter, and lucid comprehension of the subject as the purview of distance and scope – the adult experience.
Anne Leighton Massoni’s digitized photo-collages provide the show tender human poignancy. To a sentimental obsession, the decoding of old postcard script, Massoni adds infused images from the postcard’s face that function to enhance and obscure the fond, quick texts of her memoirist/tourists. Her abstract interventions, part calculation, part chance, softly, privately implicate the carefully chosen postcard picture with the sender’s penned communiqué. Massoni’s technique vouchsafes privacy for her long-absent protagonists. The story she traces is an enigmatic vignette of each side of the rendezvous of addressor and addressee.
In stark contrast to the muted ambiguity of Massoni’s digital anthologies are Larry Schroth’s ultra-vivid, digital-enhanced photos of graffiti, shot on location in the streets of Rome. Removed from the social amenities of remembrance and affection, these brash statements (also vignetted into abstraction by the artist) originally filled large, ancient, pocked and pitted walls with desperate declarations of identity. Schroth captures in them, not the certified taggings of a vandal in search of irreverent immortality, but the evanescent co-incidence of spray paint on a stone wall that has spalled off countless applications to its façade. The depth of plane in these images emphasizes the porous countenance belonging to the subject and the artifice of an existence where one is merely a trespasser.
The subtle ink paintings of Sihn Ja An Whiteley come out of a calligraphy background and glance back only briefly at it from a distant hilltop. Whiteley’s adept brushmarks quickly configure into land masses with atmospheric mists replacing the empty areas that traditionally support and cradle characters. These are lovely, quiet works. One might consider them yearnings, the starting point of visual voyeurism.
Finally, as though they themselves were little punctuation marks to the Massoni Gallery’s thesis, Nancy Thompson Brown’s postage-stamp-sized paintings hold their own in the essay. Tiny and transporting, they draw one down to their scale and issue an invitation to their small emphasis of line carefully decided and placed on the paper. They remind of the necessity of pausing while they count off the appropriate time like commas which suggest a brief respite or periods that call for a halt in momentum.