New exhibit at Diana Felber Gallery is entrancing

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WEST STOCKBRIDGE — Artist Sarah Brayer doesn't have many, if any, professional peers.

The Kyoto, Japan, resident is primarily a paper artist, which is not to be confused with someone who simply uses the medium to create art. The production of the paper itself is a vital part of her painting process.

"There [isn't] really a group of paper artists," Brayer said during a reception in early August at the Diana Felber Gallery, where some of her work is currently on display, along with pieces by Harriette Joffe and Warner Friedman, through Sept. 17.

To create her paintings, Brayer uses a Japanese method. With the help of two assistants, she mixes "washi" paper fibers with colors on a screen the size of a door frame. Without any direct artistic influences, Brayer's technique stems from years of studying Japanese papermakers. A Rochester, N.Y., native, Brayer moved to Japan shortly after graduating from Connecticut College in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in studio art. She had been drawn to the country's art, including its ceramics, and its culture quickly had a similar effect on her.

"It entranced me," she said.

While teaching English in the country for four years, Brayer decided she was serious about being an artist. She started in etchings and watercolor paintings before papermaking caught her attention. A friend knew of a factory about a two-and-a-half hour trip from Brayer's home at the time, so she began traveling there, learning about different types of paper and the processes for producing them. Eventually, she embraced her current technique. In the decades since, these paper works and other Brayer creations have been shown at museums around the world, ranging from the British Museum to the Milwaukee Art Museum to the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, according to her website.

"It was sort of a self-oriented journey," Brayer said of her development as a paper artist.

Diana Felber Gallery-goers can witness where her creativity has taken her in works such as "Hint of Red" and "Misty Blue Moon." Up close, the paper has a feathery appearance. Additionally, some of the pieces on display have a phosphorescent quality, glowing in the dark like the moon, a consistent source of inspiration for Brayer.

Unlike his pioneering gallery-mate, Friedman, a local artist who has garnered national recognition, had a more familiar beginning to his career; he had mentors in his artistic area of interest. One of them was the late Ellsworth Kelly, a minimalist.

"I was a great admirer of his," Friedman said during the reception.

In "Sunlight for E.K.," which is near the gallery's entrance, Friedman pays homage to Kelly, whom he knew personally. Friedman's work, however, eventually deviated from Kelly's abstraction. Friedman's life-size paintings typically depict doors, fences or windows through which a landscape is visible.

"I don't know why," Friedman said of the motivation for these choices that have defined his work for years. Later, he may have offered a hint; he said the universality of light beaming through these architectural frames was crucial to his paintings.

"We all see those angled shadows," he said.

Friedman often recreates a piece by a famous artist, such as Picasso, on the wall adjacent to a door or window, careful to match its actual proportions. Before doing so, he reads about the artists' lives.

"I immediately turn to biography," he said.

Despite his fascination with artists' backgrounds, the 81-year-old has never included people in his works. "I haven't figured out how to do that," he said.

Joffe, the third artist presenting work at the gallery, has no problem portraying individuals in her paintings and drawings. Though she was raised on the abstract expressionist movement, her work at the gallery focuses on Jewish fairy tales and includes figures such as Queen of Sheba. But Joffe doesn't want any browsers to feel alienated if they aren't Jewish.

"Fairy tales are fairy tales no matter what culture [they're from]," she said.

IF YOU GO...

WHAT: "High Summer: Three Artists" (Sarah Brayer, Warner Friedman and Harriette Joffe)

WHEN: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Monday through Sunday, Sept. 17

WHERE: Diana Felber Gallery, 6 Harris St., West Stockbridge

ADMISSION: Free

INFORMATION: dianafelbergallery.com; 413-232-7007


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