Most of the pieces in Bruce Blanchette’s exhibition now at AVA are wall-mounted, yet you feel you’re looking downward on them. And you may waver between calling it collage or painting or sculpture.
Blanchette, one of AVA’s 2017 Juried Award Winners and whose work is up in the The Clifford B. West Gallery until August 24, renders the experience of an aerial view—of what could be cityscapes or cracked earth—in three-dimensional depth, forcing us out of conventional ways of interacting not just with art but with the world.
We asked Blanchette to let us into his process and singular point of view.
Tell us about aerial landscapes in your work. Whether it appears we’re looking down from great heights upon wending rivers or ancient symmetrical cities or cracked earth, where does this fascination come from?
Bruce Blanchette: We live today with technology that pervades every aspect of how we see the world. What was once unknowable, like viewing our planet from satellite photos, even the moon, has exposed us to the reality of the living earthly spaceship which provides us with everything we need to survive the hostile environment of the universe. Unfortunately, we have not treated Mother Earth very well in the past couple of centuries and are beginning to see the result of our careless disregard for the environment.
I first became influenced by the photos of David Maisel, which were aerial views of landscapes being ruined by industrial pollution and selfish greed. My 2008 low reliefs were a response to Maisel’s sightings from an airplane, which struck a chord with me. These works were my imaginings that incorporated wallboard compound, sand, adhesives and traditional painting materials to manipulate color and surface. Later, my continued fascination with images taken from space used laser technology to form an accurate topographic mapping of the earth by scientists and archeologists searching for ancient ruins—in the jungles of Central America, in Egypt, and other parts of the world. These new 3-D computer-generated images gave me much to think about.
And I pick up a tension in the fractured symmetry of these pieces. Even in the Glacial series, there’s a tendency toward balance in the riven surface. An even breakage. How do you understand this unusual symmetry—in nature and in your work?
BB: This is not so much a desire for balance as it is a function of cropping my composition. I look at them as small sections of landscape that I have excised from the surrounding area of photographs, then converted to drawings in ink on panels. It is also my biggest struggle, because I feel some, like the Glacial Series, are too “perfect” and, perhaps, sterile as expressions. Attempting to eliminate the square and rectangular framed format is what I have moved toward in recent modular pieces. It bothered me, probably more than viewers, that my reliefs could so easily be mistaken for paintings… a little too “precious” for my current awareness of possibilities beyond the frame! My task, as I see it lately, is to use more asymmetry as a factor in my conceptual aesthetic.
You’ve said that your process begins with the material in hand, before any idea or concept has taken hold. What aspects of a chosen material do you consider, to give it the potential to be reshaped?
BB: Typically, I choose support materials first, and usually have something in mind beforehand that I want to add to it. I have a lot of experience working with wood or materials adaptable to woodworking techniques and tools. For a number of years, I have found hollow core doors to be a very lightweight and rigid substrate upon which all kinds of media can be applied. Formerly, I used MDF board for this purpose, but it is extremely heavy. Beyond that, almost anything that I can glue, screw, nail, or otherwise affix to the backing opens up creative possibilities for wall hung reliefs.
Your work seems to reside at the intersection of sculpture and canvas, and even slides between two- and three-dimensionality, depending on one’s angle of perspective. Is this a tension you feel yourself negotiating as you create?
BB: Absolutely! The best example of this is the fully three-dimensional “Ground Zero-Altar of the True Path,” which in its original form was a wall hanging maze, and devoid of context. It took me a couple of years, after putting it aside, to realize that it needed to be horizontal, not vertical, after which the concept grew into the piece that resides in the show. However, I am not adverse to reworking any artwork that has, in my mind, unresolved issues which this piece did; engendering a third revision this past year to correct a surface problem that didn’t satisfy me. In this case, the tension was aesthetic rather than structural.
Explore Bruce Blanchette’s exhibit, along with work by fellow Juried Award Winners Helen Shulman and Susan Wilson, at AVA Gallery until August 24.
By Tom Haushalter
In a class on the art of the tropical rainforest, it makes sense to want to work with a lush, aqueous medium like tempera. What you may not expect a group of fifth-graders to grapple with are notions of perspective and realism in a painting—or the lack thereof.
But Susan Davis Shimko, creator of one of AVA’s newest community outreach programs, called Art Detectives, has kids looking at rainforests—and art in general—in a whole new way.
Drawing on her own experience as an educator and her love of art history, Shimko developed Art Detectives to forge stronger connections between the grade-school curriculum and ideas in art. She schedules special visits to Upper Valley elementary classrooms and discusses with each teacher beforehand what subjects the students are learning. “Then we decide on a subject that lends itself to doing something enriching with art,” she says, “and I look for an artist and a piece of their work to integrate into their learning.”
Those fifth-graders were studying the environment when Shimko arrived one day with a print of Henri Rousseau’s “The Equatorial Jungle.” A lively discussion of rainforests and their importance led to observations about Rousseau’s painting and how it was made. “The class was very interested to learn that Rousseau had never actually been to a rainforest,” she says, “but had drawn his tropical plants from sketches made at the Paris botanical gardens!”
And they learned that Rousseau had such high regard for his raw, natural talent that he never took art lessons—which shows in his paintings’ overall lack of perspective and sophistication. Then out came the tempera paints, and Shimko asked the students to create their own rainforest paintings, following Rousseau’s style.
In another class studying the 1960s Civil Rights movement, Shimko introduced a piece by painter Jacob Lawrence
, known for his vivid depictions of African American life.
For another she came with Picasso’s rooster
, while the students had been hatching chickens in the classroom. “To be able to connect Picasso with actual chickens makes Picasso that much more engaging.”
Shimko is just as amazed by what the children say about these works of art. “You don’t expect a first-grader to look at a painting and say, ‘This shading makes me feel sad, and I think the artist was feeling like he wanted to show sadness.’”
Adds Shimko, “I tell them that there aren’t right or wrong ways to talk about art. It’s all about their exposure and experience of it, and I hope they begin to look at museums and AVA as places they aren’t afraid to visit.”
On Friday, June 1st, they’ll get their chance to visit AVA—and to find their own art on display. Culminating Shimko’s work with 19 classrooms in five different Upper Valley schools over the past year, the Art Detectives Art Show will feature an astonishing 298 pieces of student art. Visitors can explore the work exhibited throughout the hallways of AVA Gallery.
“It’s amazing that this program has had this level of success,” says Shimko, reflecting on the past year of Art Detectives. “And I’m excited to see how much further it can blossom.”
The Opening Reception is Friday, June 1, 4-6pm. The show is on view until June 9.
Parents and caregivers who are interested in Art Detectives should contact their teachers, and interested teachers should email ArtDetectives@avagallery.org.
By Tom Haushalter
This spring, one section of AVA’s main gallery has transcended, you could say, into a paddock, and in it the majestic and meticulous representations of artist Alysa Bennett’s horses.
In sculptures formed of shimmering feathers, in chaotic charcoal drawings, and in photographs against the backdrop of Bennett’s father’s ranch in Arizona—the horses on display seem to belie their innate power by their very grace.
But that, Bennett assures us, is the point. To straddle a horse is to perceive both its exquisite contours and marvelous strength, and she finds in that spectrum virtually endless room to roam.
Bennett spoke to us about the versatility of her favorite creatures and their core influence on her work in A Change of Horse, her exhibition that runs at AVA through May 25.
What is it about horses—in your life, in your artist’s eye—that makes them an inexhaustible source of inspiration?
Bennett: Horses got under my skin early. As a kid, summers at my dad’s California cattle ranch, I could ride all day alone or with him. I would crawl all over my old paint mare, put tassels on her bridle, pretend she was some elegant Arabian. And I rode bareback often, where you feel the warmth of the skin and the muscles moving under you. I would run my hands over her, moving with the direction of her hair, smelling her all the while. It stays with you for your life.
I studied and then chose to be a figurative artist, but after a while I needed a subject that I had a passion for—and horses came back to me when Dad bought a ranch in Arizona. I spent much time there, and horses were abundant and close. I watched them as they played and interacted with each other, and I drew them all the time.
Horses have the ability to convey all the same emotions that people have, with their body language and the look in their eyes. That is what keeps them such a compelling subject for me. I try to make that come through by being true to both their large and small gestures. The possibilities are endless!
Let us into the process of creating the horse sculptures, and how it differs whether you’re working with feathers or straw.
Bennett: I first started making the straw sculptures then moved to feathers. For both I make a simple wire armature, fill it out with batting or rags, bend it until the gesture is right, and then wrap it in plaster to make it rigid. THEN I add the feathers ONE at a time.
Making the straw sculptures (though none of these are included in my AVA show), I would soak the straw in a medium by the handfuls and then mold them to follow the direction of the muscles. They were tied down and left to set in place and then refined with scissors. (Like a day at the beauty salon.) Both the feather and the straw sculptures have the delicate stick legs that I forage for in the backyard. They have to have the right turns and angles to represent the hock, knee, or just the angle of the leg.
In your drawings, as in the sculpture, I see a kinetic and formidable creature that is also quite delicate. Is this an equine duality you’re negotiating through your work?
Bennett: So you nailed the duality issue. It has been a major mover for me. Just the fragile legs on such a huge, heavy animal really captures it. In life, their legs are always the first part to get hurt and the hardest to heal. Also, their ability to use their strength at will, being a powerhouse under you one minute and then a gentle giant for a child the next—part of that duality and always one of the more intriguing aspects of life.
The kinetics of the horse I address a little more in the drawings. I started by using the chaos of the straw on the studio floor as an inspiration. Just as I tried to create form from chaos in the sculptures, I did the same with the drawings. Starting with a random stroke, then another, then seeing the horse and coaxing it out of the chaos of line. And, of course, going for the gesture. That really is the “overriding” challenge. If I can get that right then I feel I have satisfied my deep connection with horses and humans alike.
April 12, 2018
By Tom Haushalter
You could hear violins and the hum of the gathered crowd even before you entered AVA Gallery and Art Center last Saturday, April 7, for its annual Silent Auction Party.
Not much was silent about this year’s auction, nor was enthusiasm in any way subdued among attendees—who included AVA members and volunteers, local artists, and community supporters—plucking hors-d’oeuvres from passing trays and sipping wine while they artfully outbid one another on a range of donated artworks that filled the gallery space.
Violinists Betty Kim and Katie Wee provided the elegant soundtrack to an event that helps to sustain and extend AVA’s mission for the arts in the Upper Valley. Paintings, mixed media works, sculpture, jewelry, and much more went home to the highest bidders, and resulted in over $40,000 raised for AVA.
Those whose walls at home are already full could choose to “Fund A Need” from a wish list of AVA opportunities and initiatives, including sending a kid to camp, hand tools for the new Bente Building, and computers for AVA’s Digital Arts Media Lab. And many needs were funded.
Measured in part by competing bids, the community’s support for AVA seemed only to grow as the night went on. And auction-goers grew less silent about what this arts organization means to them and their experience living in the Upper Valley.
Deborah Sherwood, a ceramic artist in Hartland, VT, is glad to have connected with AVA since she moved to the area two years ago. “This seems to be the place that has the most significant art to offer the area, so I’m very excited about it.”
Casey Villard of Etna, NH, who has taken a handful of art and poetry classes, remembered when he worked next door and could count on a mindful midday visit to AVA to rescue him from a bad day. “I’d come over here and my spirits would be lifted. I’d feel more expansive, the weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Kathy Rines, also of Etna, NH, and a longtime supporter who has participated in AVA silent auctions, she says, “eternally,” reflected on AVA’s place in a community quietly bursting with arts. “I think Lebanon is one of the great undiscovered spots. We have AVA for the visual arts, and for music there’s the wonderful Upper Valley Music Center. We have Opera North in the summers. It’s become an amazing cultural center.”
Roger Goldenberg, an AVA faculty artist who has been integral to the development of the new sculptural studies program, said he moved here from Portsmouth, NH, two years ago because of AVA. “A lot of people will try to tell you that Portsmouth is the arts mecca of New Hampshire,” he says, “but I think it’s the Upper Valley. And I think AVA’s the hub.”
Photos by Michael Seamans
February 22, 2018
By Tom Haushalter
Last Friday evening, AVA’s main gallery space quickly filled up with people of all ages. Some arrived by the yellow school bus-full. All came to celebrate the artists whose work was selected for the 10th Annual Best of the Upper Valley High School Exhibition.
Featuring 140 works of art from 139 artists representing 16 different high schools in the Upper Valley, the exhibition is an impressive showcase of the breadth and depth of creative young talent in our region.
The gallery on Friday was tinged with anticipation as the artists, their families, and friends awaited the awards ceremony, announcing the winners and honorable mentions in each of 14 categories, from analog photography and painting to woodworking and wearable art.
Patrick Dunfey, Head of Exhibitions Design and Planning at the Hood Museum of Art, juried this year’s exhibition. In his remarks, reflecting on how much fun he had spending time with “so much great work,” Dunfey encouraged all the artists, winners or not, to “take a moment to think of the accomplishment of being part of this show.”
And because art is an act of sharing and community, Dunfey urged everyone, “Tonight if you see work you really like, find the artist and introduce yourself and share that with them.”
AVA congratulates this year’s High School Exhibition winners in each category:
BEST OF AWARDS
Analog Photography – Ryan Blackden, Newport High School, Grade 12
Black and White – Rachel Xia, Kimball Union Academy, Grade 10
Ceramics – Yuhe Zheng, Kimball Union Academy, Grade 12
Digital Art – Caleb Hazelton, Lebanon High School, Grade 11
Digital Photography – Mina Nguyen, Holderness High School, Grade 11
Digital Photography – Quinter Johnson, Newport High School, Grade 9
Drawing – Hannah Young, Thetford Academy, Grade 12
Best Environmental Message – Ethan Trombley, Newport High School, Grade 10
Mixed Media – Sean Gaherty, Ledyard Charter School, Grade 11
Painting – Tobias Bannister-Parker, Proctor Academy, Grade 12
Portraiture – Camie Rediker, Woodstock Union High School, Grade 12
Printmaking – Jacob Slaughter, Thetford Academy, Grade 11
Sculpture – Olivia Kinnett, Mascoma Valley Regional High School, Grade 12
Wearable Art – Coreen Carley, Kimball Union Academy, Grade 12
Woodworking/Design – Andrew Harrell, Proctor Academy, Grade 11
Black and White – Artemis Tangalidou, Thetford Academy, Grade 12
Leah Kaliski, Thetford Academy, Grade 12
Ceramics – Eliza Goodell, Oxbow High School, Grade 12
Eric Hazen, Hartford High School, Grade 11
Megan Jette, Mascoma Valley Regional High School, Grade 12
Digital Art -Emma Duranceau, Hartford High School, Grade 11
Lizzy Pierce, Hartford Area Career and Technology Center, Grade 11
Digital Photography – Evaline Huntley, Hartford Area Career and Technology Center, Grade 11
Drawing – Hannah Zhang, Kimball Union Academy, Grade 10
Ingrid Cole-Johnson, Proctor Academy, Grade 10
Neve Monroe-Anderson, Hanover High School, Grade 11
Best Environmental Message – Carley Malloy, Thetford Academy, Grade 12
Emily Surrell, Woodstock Union High School, Grade 12
Mixed Media – Baylie Ordway, Rivendell Academy, Grade 12
Megan Smith, Hanover High School, Grade 11
Painting – Anna Krajewski, Proctor Academy, Grade 12
Annie Zhao, Lebanon High School, Grade 11
Cameron Eaton, Stevens High School, Grade 11
Poppy Tans, The Sharon Academy, Grade 10
Victoria Tillman, Stevens High School, Grade 10
Portraiture – Emily Lyons, Lebanon High School, Grade 12
Megan Graber, Thetford Academy, Grade 12
Printmaking – Bea Green, Rivendell Academy, Grade 12
Falcon Jaacks, Hanover High School, Grade 10
Sculpture – Alden Sawyer, Holderness High School, Grade 10
Odin Mattern, Hartford High School, Grade 12
Sam Wyckoff, Proctor Academy, Grade 11
Wearable Art – Carly Miliken, Kimball Union Academy, Grade 10
Phoebe Altman, Hanover High School, Grade 11
Woodworking/Design – Alex Kaupp, Proctor Academy, Grade 12
The High School Exhibition runs until March 9 at AVA Gallery and Art Center. Here are just a few of the works to discover and enjoy:
“Fissure” by Yuhe Zheng, grade 12, Kimball Union Academy (Photo: Tom Haushalter)
“Dad” by Camie Rediker, grade 12, Woodstock Union High School (Photo: Tom Haushalter)
“Untitled” by Jessica Gravel, grade 10, Mascoma Valley Regional High School (Photo: Tom Haushalter)
“Untitled” by Poppy Tans, grade 10, The Sharon Academy (Photo: Tom Haushalter)
Photos ©Michael Seamans unless otherwise noted
Lebanon, NH (August 25, 2017) AVA Gallery and Art Center (AVA) announced today that Mila Pinigin has been selected as Exhibition Manager. Ms. Pinigin will officially begin transitioning into the position part-time starting in midSeptember and will assume full-time responsibilities on November 1, 2017.
The announcement came jointly from AVA Gallery Board Chair H. Sloane Mayor and Executive Director Trip Anderson.
“We are elated to have Mila joining us at AVA,” said Mayor. “With her strong background in the arts and exhibitions, combined with her knowledge of the Upper Valley arts scene, we could not have been more fortunate. AVA has such an exciting future ahead, with sculptural programming rolling out in the Bente Building this fall, and new exhibition space in our members’ gallery, the strength of our team is as important as ever. Mila brings the skills to connect AVA with the community through exhibitions that use inventive applications of education, outreach and business associations.”