Vista Lights 2007 Reviewed in the Free Times

Issue #20.47 :: 11/21/2007 – 11/27/2007
Vista Lights Should Return to Core Mission:

Showcasing the Arts

BY MARY BENTZ GILKERSON

Vista Lights — just like Artista Vista — originally was about showcasing the work of emerging artists. When the Vista was a new concept, it was the excitement of what was new in the visual arts, and not much later, in the performing arts that drew the crowds.

The crowds still come. But it seems like they are driven more by the lure of free samples and commemorative trinkets at the area restaurants. At this year’s Vista Lights on Nov. 15, people were collecting goodies like kids at Halloween.

On the whole, the art component of the night was flat. Most of the galleries simply installed shows of work by the gallery artists. Some didn’t even bother to change what was already hanging.

Artists from the Artists’ Roundtable took advantage of available wall space in one of the retail businesses on Lincoln Street but the work was so jammed into the space that it was difficult to see. Sometimes less is more.

The work that stood above the rest was a show at City Art by Lee Swallie, who won the Columbia Museum’s Young Contemporaries Award this year. Swallie explores the human figure in a series of charcoal and mixed media pieces that are dramatic in their scale, energy and use of light.

Kathy Casey’s “Painting Textures” in the main gallery at City Art is mixed in its level of success. Most of the paintings are tightly controlled geometric abstractions based on a grid with some similarities to Carl Blair’s or Laura Spong’s work. However, they lack the active gestural mark-making that brings the other artists’ work to life. Casey’s most successful pieces, like Soho No. 2, abandon the grid and give way to a looser
application of paint and mark.

Kathy Casey’s paintings at City Art were featrued in Vista Lights on Nov. 15.

Gallery 80808/Vista Studios features a survey of solid work by the resident artists: Ethel Brody, Pat Callahan, Stephen Chesley, Jeff Donovan, Heidi Darr-Hope, Pat Gilmartin, Robert Kennedy, Susan Lenz, Sharon Licata, Laura Spong, David Yaghjian and Don Zurlo. The new work in the show is interesting, but some of the older — much older — work doesn’t seem to fit.

Chesley’s work on monochromatic studies shows in his new paintings. The values are pushed to the extreme while the colors remain subtle. Raining is the least monochromatic of the group, but the hues are still very close together. This makes the soft line of blue that skirts across the bottom all the more powerful in evoking light.

There are darker values and colors in some of Laura Spong’s new work, too. In A Chance Reflection the darks along the outer edges make the light areas in the center glow. She is beginning to paint the darks with the same care and attention as Motherwell.

Jeff Donovan’s new paintings contort and compress the human form into impossible poses. Loving Cup shows a young woman contorted into a pretzel around the mug in her hand. The titles in his pieces deliberately play on the images and increase both the irony and humor.

Reliquary of Spirit, a mixed media construction by Heidi Darr-Hope functions on Baroque sensory overload. It would be interesting to see a full installation of these pieces in the gallery so that Darr-Hope would have a chance to completely control their setting.

Yaghjian continues with his “everyman” series. In Bull Rider 2 the figure of the man balances precariously on one leg atop a running bull. While the viewer has a pretty good idea that the man falls in the next frame of the narrative, it’s obvious that the man either has no clue or doesn’t care.

Don Zurlo’s paintings are developing a sensitive approach to surface and color. In 9411 two interior rectangles are thickly painted in ochers and yellows. A narrow pale pink line separates the two areas and reads as a simple horizon line. These interior shapes are juxtaposed against succeeding flatly painted rectangular frames.

There is nothing wrong with galleries exhibiting established artists. But, if the emerging artists and performers are neglected, the whole arts community will stagnate. In this case it’s a bigger risk to take no risk at all.

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