Highlighting the fundamentals of abstract work
New exhibit showcases work of three female abstract artists
NORTH ADAMS — In a season typically awash in muddy hues, MCLA Gallery 51 is poised to flood its Main Street space with a flurry of bright colors.
"It's going to be a lot of color," said Arthur De Bow, curator of MCLA Gallery 51. "It's a great time to do really bold, energizing work."
"Colour and Form: Beauty in Abstraction," opening Thursday, showcases the work of three local abstract artists: Dawn Nelson, Sarah Sutro and Kathline Carr.
"The three artists in this show ... I've been really interested in their work and in the direction they are going. As I started thinking about their individual work, their individual artistic voices and the combination of the three of them together, I felt their work would speak to each other and have a really interesting dialogue," De Bow said. "It just really fell into place."
A show featuring the unique voices of female abstract artists, he said, has been percolating in the back of his mind for the last two years. The show coming to fruition coincides with the gallery's new mission.
"It really plays into a renewed, intensified direction that we're taking, have taken Gallery 51 in, which is the representation of underrepresented artists. A fair portion of that [underrepresented population] are women, minorities, artists of color, artists of diversity, but not exclusively because I don't believe in anything being exclusive. We show everybody," De Bow said. "We're putting a stronger emphasis by far, in terms of our direction, on underrepresented artists and again a large segment of that population is female artists — particularly here in the Berkshires.
"In moving here [from Portland, Ore.], I was taken by the extraordinary amount of phenomenal women artists and then, also, taken and disappointed by, proportionately, the lack of attention they get. That also plays into that direction that we're going in, particularly this year, with this show kicking it off."
In his selection of the artists, De Bow, who served as the exhibitions director of the Oregon College of Art & Craft for 20 years, chose those who represented the fundamentals of abstraction.
"Thinking particularly on the concept of abstract work and really the fundamentals of abstract work, the nuts and bolts, what it is really about: color and form, texture and shape, and how the artist uses those to convey their artistic voice and emotion," he said. "Dawn [Nelson] has a particularly beautiful sense of color and the works I've selected for this show have a really interesting color palette."
Nelson, who has shown her work nationally, splits her time between Jamaica Plain and her studio at the Eclipse Mill.
"Every abstract artist, every artist, brings something different to their work. Dawn really brings this fluidity to her work. To me, there is, ever so slightly, figurative and human reference, in her work, even though it's very abstract just in terms of the curves and circular shapes that she uses," he said. "In [Sutro's], there is great landscape reference that brings, to me, both notions of place and time. Again, there is a beautiful sense of color and color combinations, but it also has this reference of place and I think, even though its very abstract, a sense of a horizon line that helps establish that landscape reference."
Sutro, an internationally-shown artist who makes her home at the Eclipse Mill, has created pieces that stand alone, but also are part of a larger group of paintings.
"Each single piece stands on its own, with its own merits, but they will be show in five groups of four pieces in each group," De Bow said. "Each of those four really end up speaking to each other. That's the uniqueness of her work."
Carr, a nationally known artist, lives and works in the city, but, De Bow said, is probably the least likely of the three artists to have her name recognized by local residents.
"She shows in Boston and New York. She's shown here [in the Berkshires] as well, but not as predominantly as the others," he said. "I'm really excited to show Kathline's work, a mix of both her painting and printmaking. I think more people will associate her with her print work."
Her "great sense of color," drew De Bow to her work.
"I'm particularly struck with her use and manipulation of the color blue. Dark tones, blacks and charcoal grays, have been predominant in her work for some time," he said. "But, putting those in combination with the way she uses and manipulates blue, the emotional content she brings out in the color blue, is very, very strong. There's a real a kind of fire and ice in her work. There's a really strong energy in her work, which I think will be a really great contrast to the other two."
And while the pieces speak to each other over the course of the two-month exhibition, De Bow hopes the work will spark a dialogue with those viewing it.
"The quintessential question [about abstract art] from the viewer is, 'Well, what is it?' As a society, we're so used to being given clues and references. The thing with abstract art is that it is really relying on the artist's and the viewer's interpretation," he said. "It's less important about what [the artists] want you to see and feel and more important about what you see and feel ... The great thing about abstract art is the viewer is able to place themself in it and create their own interpretation."
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