Faces and Figures
At the Boston Visual Artists' Union 77 North Washington Street, Boston Through April 22
Strolling through Boston's North End usually means a search for either fresh fruit and vegetables or a good restaurant, not an art gallery. Still, if you are in the North End, and if Regina's pizza or some other Italian culinary delight does not lure you away first, consider travelling a few flights up at 77 North Washington Street to the Boston Visual Artists' Union (BVAU) gallery.
Beware, however; behind the gallery's barn-like doors lurk paintings, drawings, and sculptures by almost twenty different artists, and some of the artists are represented by only one work. The wide variety eliminates the possibility of meaningful coherence in this group show. To appreciate the show, then, consider the designated theme, faces and figures, as a common factor in all the works, but not as a unifying factor.
All of the exhibitors belong to the BVAU, and most of them are or were faculty at the Boston University School of Art. Still, disparate approaches to the human figure abound, as another common factor, professional background, fails to tie things together.
Works dwell more on color, emotions, and light than on the figures themselves. They also deal with a potpourri of contemporary and traditional settings for the figures. For example, while one painting deals with a suburban poolside scene, a sculpture, entitled "The Falling Couple," seems to concern man's fall from paradise. The irony of seeing these two works in one room detracts from the figures in the works. In this general confusion there are, though, some fascinating works.
"Falling Couple" is basically a concave bronze disc. At the top of the disc, a male figure, virtually suspended in space, reaches for a female figure. The figures are repeated again and again, smaller each time, toppling over one another, and eventually "Melting" into the disc.
Cynthia Cole's "Confrontation Number 25" and "Confrontation Number Four" both capture the action of hockey with sharp lines of movement softened by the curves of the human figure. It seem her figures could be dancing in a high speed ballet just as easily as playing hockey.
One oil, "Twilight Figures" by Jeanette Fintz, uses unusual tones, and emphasizes tension, rather than respectful interplay of human figures. No figure faces any other in this work; the elements in the painting are held together by the boundaries of the canvas and the consistency of pigment.
Anyone who spends any time at the beach has seen scenes like the one capture by Peter Rappoli--three adults talking at the water's edge, the women in skirted bathing suits, men with just a little too much stomach hanging over the edge of their trunks, and the sky and the seemingly endless sand dwarfing them. This grouping of people contrasts sharply with the three twilight figures.
Dominic Cretara treats and apparently classic ordering in his modern-day oil "Supper Scene." A male, Christ-like in appearance, dominates the center of the painting. People around him drink, even if it is only tea, and there is bread on the table before him.
Several paintings at the BVAU explore women in a sensitive and thought-provoking manner. In "Altomare," Phyllis Berman depicts women larger than life against a nearly monotone background. The emotion of the figure, particularly her hesitancy, is heightened by her dramatic angle in relation to the canvas.
"Portrait of Sarah Pitkin," an oil by Marguerete Walsh, is alarmingly real. A woman in an Indian gauze shirt seems to harbor distrust and fright. The plain background makes the portrait more believable; Sarah Pitkin could be sitting in your own home. The figure's emotions are made larger than life through the proportions of the painting itself.
The problem with this show is with the Howard-Johnson's-flavor-to-please-everyone style which results from so many different artists each represented by only a few works. Perhaps deeper exploration of a more limited number of artists would give the show more direction, and make it more appealing to the viewer.