In this year of COVID-19, art lovers, like everyone else, have had a tough time of it. Museums have closed, galleries have postponed exhibits, and even annual open studio events have been canceled. We’ve had to satisfy our art hunger with tiny little appetizers like virtual shows and online art talks — that is if we could muster enough enthusiasm to spend one more hour in front of the computer screen.
Now, fortunately, our withered art scene is reviving as museums and galleries begin to reopen. The second half of summer holds more promise than the first, although many of us will still be exercising caution when it comes to venturing out. Smaller, quieter venues in unexpected places seem in order as we can worry less about crowds or folks intruding into our social distancing space.
With this in mind, we’ve pulled together six low-key venues around New England where you can take in some art without having to stress. As the pandemic situation is fluid and ever-changing, we recommend that you check each venue’s website for gallery hours and to make sure it’s open to visitors. And don’t forget your mask!
'Leon Benn: Gardening Techniques'
Grant Wahlquist Gallery | Portland, Maine
Through Aug. 22
Leon Benn paints plants and gardens the way someone might after nibbling on a certain type of mind-altering organic matter. His lush landscapes pulsate with vibrant, psychedelic color, rendered ever more vivid by his deft use of materials. The artist, who moved to Portland from Brooklyn about five years ago, first soaks his canvases overnight, washing them out the next day to achieve a uniform color base. From there, he uses a “faux batik” technique to prevent some areas of fabric from taking up paint. After stretching the canvas, he uses pastels, oil and acrylic paint to create tight and bright textured compositions reminiscent of the blazing rhythms of turn of the century Fauvism.
Benn says the paintings in the show started as a series of landscape drawings he made of bushes and shrubs leaning against Portland houses, fences and buildings.
“That’s how I interact with the landscape — finding these random, unknown spots,” Benn told the Portland Press Herald in April, when the show was originally scheduled to open. “I’m not looking for that traditional ‘romantic’ view; I’m just wandering around and stumbling onto these things that are often not regarded as beautiful.”
Gardens come as natural subject matter to Benn, who once worked as a landscaper. They’re also welcome subject for viewers, seeking respite from this summer’s intense social and political heat.
Patricia Carrigan, Emilia Dubicki, Barbara Hocker and Andra Samelson: 'True Blue'
Five Points Gallery | New Torrington, Connecticut
July 17 to Aug. 22
Blue is the color of summer. Think of blue skies, blue oceans, blue swimming pools. In keeping with the color of the season, “True Blue” features four female artists who rely on blue in their work.
Patricia Carrigan does abstract work incorporating symbols, shapes and sometimes recognizable objects like chairs. Though blue is often associated with calm and serenity, Carrigan’s work is decidedly more probing, delving into psychological questions of direction, where she’s been in life and where she’s going.
Emilia Dubicki’s work is large and gestural, reflecting the scenic routes she travels every day. “The paintings are also about questions,” she said in a gallery statement. “How do I paint thoughts? How do I paint sound or emotion? I work on a painting with these ideas and certain visuals in mind. The process of painting is a continuous search for the truth.”
Barbara Hocker’s work combines digital photography of streams, rivers, lakes and the sea with painting. Informed by her yoga and tai chi practice, Hocker’s woven mixed media pieces and handmade artist books delicately recall the ripples and waves of moving water. Andra Samelson’s abstract paintings of circles encompass both the microcosm and macrocosm. A close view of her paintings reveals not only the inner workings of forms that might be as tiny as a human cell but shapes that might represent the expanse of the cosmos.
Also on view is “Helpless,” presenting the work of New York artist Ellen Hackl Fagan who creates paintings and sculptures inspired by the night sky, and “Water and Light” by Connecticut artist Clark Leonard who combines his love of photography and surfing to create exhilarating yet serene photos that appear to be snapped while hanging 10 off the edge of a surfboard.
'Monumental: Misoo Bang And Sarah Tortora' & 'Happy: Lauren Booth'
Southern Vermont Arts Center | Manchester, Vermont
Through Aug. 30
Misoo Bang and Sarah Tortora have big things to say about gender, healing and the nature of form. So big, in fact, that the word “monumental” is the title of the show.
Misoo (she uses only her first name for her art) paints female subjects who stare unabashedly back at the viewer. The women are in the foreground painted over a compendium of iconographic images that include buildings and scenes from the Italian renaissance as well as scenes from children’s fairytales and even Disney cartoons. Clearly, these women are no victims of the male gaze. Rather, the Burlington artist, who was born in the Bronx and raised in South Korea, says her subjects are all real-life women who symbolize female perseverance.
“The women in my paintings are not small and helpless,” she said in a statement released by the center. “But they are already brave and powerful. In my painting, I am celebrating their power.”
Showing with Misoo is Philadelphia-based artist Sarah Tortora who creates large sculptural works inspired by urban architecture, ancient Greek vase painting and museum displays. Her work typically combines geometric forms with an odd hand, knee, foot or some other small vignette suggesting the human figure. Using a variety of materials that include cement, stone and wood, Tortora walks a line that references modernism and industrial minimalism without ever falling into strict categorization.
“One aim of my work is to undo the cultural conditioning assumed with physical objects and environments — while simultaneously re-ascribing a sense of power or conviction in the human hand,” she told the Art of Choice in a 2018 interview.
Also showing is Connecticut artist Lauren Booth. Booth creates works in light, neon and resin about what can arise when you get still, turn inward, and pay attention to your thoughts and dreams. Since so many of us have a lot more time to do that these days, the show resonates.
Please note that a limited number of visitors will be allowed into the center at any one time.
'Allison Bianco: Forget About It'
Cade Tompkins Projects | Providence, Rhode Island
Through Aug. 31
Summer is nothing without a taste of the sea. Luckily, there are Allison Bianco’s prints depicting not only vast oceans but wide-open skies. With a spare, Japanese sensibility, her coastal scenes are rendered with both delicacy and power. They are, according to the gallery’s description, elegant investigations of “nostalgia, humor and the inconsistency of memory.” Bianco creates her works using historic images of coastal communities onto which she layers abstract shapes. Pale greens and blues are shocked back into the 21st century with fluorescent pinks and day-glo greens. In some pieces, cartoon-like shapes and orange warning flags seem to sound alarms about rampant development and climate change. Other works memorialize parts of Rhode Island that are now long gone. Bianco’s fresh take on traditional New England vistas, like the eastern side of Conanicut Island in Narraganset Bay, restores an art viewer’s capacity to be captivated by a seascape.
Visit the gallery by appointment.
'Open World: Video Games And Contemporary Art' & 'Richard Haynes: Whispering Quilts'
Currier Museum of Art | Manchester, New Hampshire
Opens Aug. 20
Video games infuse our lives. We see their influence everywhere, from feature films to the mentality of cops patrolling the streets. “Open World” continues the exploration of video game culture looking at the gaming influence in painting, sculpture, textiles, prints, drawings, animation and performance.
On view is a broad cross-section of games, ranging from early text adventure and arcade games to modern multiplayer online role-playing games and first-person shooters. Included in the show are artists influenced by popular video game franchises such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, The Sims and Final Fantasy.
Showing in tandem with this exhibition is a decidedly more traditional art form, this one conjuring up visions of warmth and comfort, but in this particular instance, also escape to safety.
Richard Haynes, a New Hampshire artist who calls himself a “visual storyteller and cultural keeper,” creates bold and colorful abstract quilts in which figures emerge and recede. The works in “Whispering Quilts” are part of Hayne’s Underground Railroad series portraying the means and tools by which enslaved Blacks escaped to freedom. The figures meld and merge into historic quilting patterns which are believed to have been used as coded wayfinding signals for those evading slavers. The fictional family in the scenes portrayed on the quilts stand-in for countless enslaved Blacks who managed to escape north. Reminiscent of Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series,” his powerfully elegant quilts speak to the determination and bravery of African Americans fleeing a brutal and cruel system.
'The Long Way Home: A Photographic Journey with Gordon Lankton'
Museum of Russian Icons | Clinton, Massachusetts
Through Sept. 27
In 1956, Gordon Lankton, the founder of MoRI, took a long, long trip on his motorcycle. Starting off in Germany, he spent 267 days on the road, logging 27,000 miles while tooling through 24 countries. Lankton made it all the way to Japan. Along the way, he took snapshots of people going about their lives — fishing, weaving, mining, selling fruit, farming and making art.
The exhibit includes 40 photographs from Lankton’s grand tour, providing as much a window into Lankton’s own joy at his global immersion experience as it does into the lives of the people in the countries he visited. There is a photo of a man offering tea in Iraq, a photo of men in motion along a Pakistan railroad and another of colorful dancers celebrating Republic Day in India.
What comes across most, says Kent Russell, executive director at MoRI, is how much the world has changed since the ‘50s. In Lankton’s photos, Hong Kong and Singapore exist without towering skyscrapers, and people live their lives as they have for centuries.
“We see Gordon surrounded by people welcoming a lone American traveler with curiosity and friendship,” says Russell.
That’s how we can tell these photos were taken a long time ago.
Lankton set out on his journey to make a decision about whether to pursue a career in engineering or the foreign service. The fact that he ultimately chose a career as a plastics engineer (at Nypro, an international injection molded plastics company in Clinton, where he would eventually become president) takes nothing away from the allure of his photographs.
Also at MoRI is “Tradition & Opulence: Easter in Imperial Russia,” which takes stock of the Easter egg as a symbol of renewal. Originally planned for the spring, the exhibit looks at every manner of decorative egg, from opulent jeweled Fabergé eggs to ceramic and embroidered ones. Almost 200 objects are on view through Oct. 25. Plan ahead, as tickets are timed with only 20 guests allowed during each half-hour slot.