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Art Notes: Young Artists Bring New Energy to Upper Valley Art Scene

Brooklyn Rider

Brooklyn Rider

There are many more young artists in the Upper Valley than there were a decade ago, and more opportunities to see their work.

That might be the most salutary development in the area’s visual art landscape in recent years. A great deal of the energy embodied on gallery walls is attributable to the young.

We’re about to get a big dose of work from young artists in the form of an exhibition opening at Chandler Gallery in Randolph on Jan. 20. For “20-30/2D-3D,” the Chandler engaged White River Junction artists James Sturm and Rachel Gross, who selected work from 15 artists from around Vermont.

There are already two exhibitions of work by young artists in the Upper Valley — “Cartoonists’ Take on Charley Harper,” student work in response to illustrator Harper’s vivid style, at the Montshire Museum in Norwich, and “Survival Soup,” an exhibition at the Main Street Museum by Travis Dunning and Matt Riley, who live in Stockbridge, Vt., and Seth Tracy, a Randolph native, along with a small display of work by Drew and Ben Peberdy of White River Junction.

The latter of these two shows is bit of a riot, in both senses. If there’s a common aesthetic among the young artists whose work I’ve seen, it’s a sort of furious DIY improvisation that fuses a readable, emotive style to humble, even cast-off materials. There’s no trace of expensive paper or shiny frames, and I don’t think any of the art reaches three figures in price.

The Randolph-area artists, all of them in their 20s, draw from graffiti, album-cover art, alternative comics, assemblage artists like Joseph Cornell and pop culture, old and new. And like many young artists, they’re aiming not to join the dominant culture, but to savage it.

Seth Tracy makes many of his collages on old squares of linoleum flooring, which grants them at once a formal frame, and a gritty background. In one collage, a streak of old mastic on the back of the tile is refashioned as a man. Tracy repurposes old lenses, clipped images, pieces of circuit boards and in one instance a pair of eyeglass frames, juxtaposing figures and text.

There’s something about collage that suits our messy times. Forget about T.S. Eliot’s “heap of broken images.” Imagine if poor Eliot had been subjected to the Internet. The combining and recombining of images and slogans into different contexts seems like a more vital enterprise for artists than ever. Ben Peberdy is something of a young master of the form, and the nine small collages at the back of the museum have a concentrated charm.

The most frankly emotional work belongs to Matt Riley, whose barbed, busy canvases are uneven, less coolly composed than the collages of Tracy and Peberdy, but messier, less resolved, more vital. A tiny triptych depicts odd, bulbous characters, one of whom holds a sign that reads “Looking for Answers, Will Take Anything.”

In Redemption, a larger painting, tortured faces appear as if poured from wine and liquor bottles, a sort of lament.

Dunning’s most striking work in the show is Skatebirds, a set of skateboards painted with totemic birds, that look like part artistic statement, part business startup.

And speaking of totems, Drew Peberdy has painted a set of heads drawn from the less-than-B movies screened each week by the museum’s Knights of the Mystic Movie Club. Ever wondered what The Incredible Melting Man looks like up close? Peberdy’s got you covered.

Taken together, what’s striking about this work is its sense of freshness, the feeling of striving for connection. They are looking for something to say, and there’s something powerful in that quest. I don’t think that more established artists in the Upper Valley are jaded, by any means, but the enthusiasm on display at the Main Street Museum feels especially vital.

I’m not the only one who feels the need for some strong gusts to blow the cobwebs out. In his roundup of 2012 in New England visual art, the Boston Globe critic Sebastian Smee concluded with the following, a statement that’s worth reproducing at length. Since I also write on other subjects, I don’t get out to view art as widely as Smee, whose entire portfolio consists of visual art. His observation is drawn from a much wider sample, but it rings true to me.

So there was a lot going on. But there was also a sense of drift, and perhaps of gathering crisis: Museums doing what museums do, expanding, mounting shows, and renovating galleries, without ever truly surprising us, taking risks, going beyond the usual platitudes.

If art is to capture our imaginations, it has to get under our skin. I felt starved this year of anything dark, stirring, or genuinely gut-wrenching. Nor do I see many modern or contemporary curators in our museums who seem prepared to step away from minimalism or the more cerebral, antiseptic, politically vetted aspects of recent art and take us closer to the mouth of the abyss.

Young people are hungry for all kinds of art, but they’re especially hungry for art that speaks to their sense of the true urgency and drama of life. If museums want to bring in new and younger audiences — and, at least publicly, that’s all they seem to fret about — that has to change.

There are a lot of big questions out there that people don’t know how to answer, and the art from the young at least acknowledges it. Just look at the U.S. Congress, for example. So as we marvel over our new and improved art venues — for example, the Black Family Visual Art Center and the soon to expand Hood Museum — let’s also keep an eye on the young artists, who are asking “What’s it all for?”

The Creative Arts

∎“Creative placemaking” is one of the buzzy terms in the art world, thanks to a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts study of the same name. A joint presentation by the Hopkins Center and the Main Street Museum on Monday gives the idea a run around the park.

Brooklyn Rider, the acclaimed string quartet, will appear with a handful of Upper Valley arts mainstays to talk about what makes this area a fertile place for artists. Adam Blue, director of education at AVA Gallery, David Fairbanks Ford, founder of the Main Street Museum, Kim Souza, of Revolution, and James Sturm, co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, will talk about their influences and the state of the arts.

The event, at 6 p.m. Monday at the Main Street Museum, is free, but donations to the museum are always welcome.

∎ AVA Gallery and Art Center hosts “The Way We Work,” featuring works in progress by 19 artists with studios in AVA’s Carter-Kelsey Building. The exhibiting artists, who work in almost every imaginable material, will hold a gallery talk at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 17.

AVA also continues its series of events connected to “The Way We Worked,” a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution that examines how work shaped the nation. AVA has augmented the show with new prints of photographs taken at H.W. Carter and Sons, the former clothing factory that AVA calls home, and new photographs by Jack Rowell of people connected to the old factory, which closed in 1985.

This evening at 6, novelist Ernest Hebert will talk about his father’s work at a Keene textile mill and read a passage from his recent novel, Never Back Down. Hebert worked at the International Narrow Fabric Co. mill when he was 16, and his new book draws on that experience.

On Sunday afternoon at 4, AVA will screen Connecting the Threads: Overalls to Art — H.W. Carter and Sons Factory, a 35-minute documentary featuring interviews with former Carter workers, including Thelma Follensbee and Eugene Dauphinais.

“The Way We Worked” is on view through Jan. 27. “The Way We Work” is on view through Feb. 1.

Openings and Receptions

Dartmouth College’s Studio Art Exhibition Program opens an exhibition of sculpture by artist-in-residence John Newman on Tuesday with a talk by the artist at 4:30 in Loew Auditorium, followed by a reception in the Hopkins Center’s Jaffe-Friede Gallery. Also opening is an invitational show of “tiny work.”

∎ Kimball Union Academy opens the next in its series of art shows celebrating the school’s bicentennial tomorrow evening. KUA graduates Joon Sung Park and Elizabeth Wilson will show recent work in the Meriden school’s Taylor Gallery. Wilson, a 2005 graduate with an MFA from the University of New Hampshire, makes abstract paintings. Park, a 2006 graduate who received a fine arts degree from Boston College, makes ceramics in the Confucian Korean tradition. A reception is planned for tomorrow evening from 5:30 to 7.

Last Chance

BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vt., is exhibiting small works by the impressive roster of artists it represents, including several Dartmouth studio art professors, through Sunday.

∎ “Oil Paintings by Myra Hudson,” a solo show from the Royalton artist, is on view at the Tunbridge Public Library. Hudson’s first solo show includes landscapes and figure paintings and is on view through next Friday.

Ongoing

“Images of Nature,” photographs of wild animals and the natural world by the well-traveled Tom Sears, is on view in Ledyard Gallery, Howe Library, Hanover.

∎ “Beguiled by the Wild: The Art of Charley Harper,” a traveling show that has landed at Norwich’s Montshire Museum of Science, gives us a concentrated dose of Harper’s colorful prints. In addition, students and instructors from the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction have done a series of one-page comics about the natural world, incorporating Harper’s techniques. Both shows remain on view through Feb. 3. Entry to the Montshire costs $12 for adults and $10 for children ages two to 17.

∎ Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction exhibits small matted works by the studio’s artist-members through January.

∎ Scavenger Gallery in White River Junction shows prints by Lois Beatty and jewelry by Stacy Hopkins.

∎ The winter exhibitions at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center include mixed media work by Lynda Knisley; photographs and digital paintings by Richard Wilson; photographs and poems by James Jones; paintings by members of the Vermont Watercolor Society; ink drawings and oil paintings by Kathleen Swift, and oil paintings by Betsy Derrick. A reception and “Art Rounds” conversation with the artists is planned for 4:30 p.m., Jan. 17 in the medical center’s Chilcott Lounge.

∎ Quechee Area Camera Club is exhibiting photographs at White River Junction’s Zollikofer Gallery, in the lobby of the Hotel Coolidge.

∎ “Light and Space,” an exhibition of large-scale prints by East Barnard artist Sabra Field, and work by fiber artist Karen Madden of Poughquag, N.Y., sculptor Pat Musick of Manchester, Vt., and Springfield, Vt., painter Dan O’Donnell, is on view in the Great Hall of the renovated Fellows Gear Shaper factory in Springfield, Vt.

∎ “The Past Meets with the Future,” paintings, drawings and mixed media by West Lebanon artist Fiorella Tasca Buck, is on view at West Lebanon’s Kilton Public Library.

∎ The Hood Museum exhibits “Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art at the Hood Museum of Art,” offering a look at Australian Aboriginal work since the 1960s.

Art Notes appears in the “Valley News” on Thursday. Notices must arrive two weeks prior to the Thursday before an event. Send email to artnotes@vnews.com.