Art Notes: Photographer’s Installation Combines the Digital and the Handmade

Thursday, June 11, 2015
Lia Rothstein has been a photographer for four decades, and in that time she has done nearly everything a photographer could do. She’s used film and digital, done commercial jobs, worked as a photo archivist, shot weddings and portraits and focused on her own abstract, experimental art. So when she’s asked whether she prefers digital to film, or vice versa, she says it’s the old apples versus oranges argument.

The point is not whether film or digital photography is purer or more authentic, or which technology is more advanced, but how you harness technology to express what you want to say.

“What I’m interested in is a really good image,” Rothstein said.

A photographer and teacher since the 1970s, Rothstein, who lives in Hanover, is preparing for a show of her work that opens Saturday at the Aidron Duckworth Art Museum in Meriden. With a year’s advance notice from the museum, Rothstein saw the exhibition as an opportunity to explore new techniques.

In a studio in Orford that she has rented specifically to get ready for the exhibition, she’s hung some of the abstract, multi-media works that she is going to show. Tables downstairs and upstairs are filled with framed works, boxes of the special Japanese paper she’s used in some of the prints, and the materials she uses.

The show will contain perhaps 25 works in all, including a mobile/installation of 200 small, lightweight paper boats, each one attached to the other on a string; this is the first time Rothstein has designed an installation. The boats have been painted using the ancient encaustic method, in which hot beeswax, resin and pigment are applied to a surface, in this case paper, giving the boats a translucent, stained-glass-like glow.

“I’ve always loved more tactile, textural things,” Rothstein said. “I wanted to go back to making more handmade things, with the mark of the maker on them.”

Rothstein first took photographs underwater, which she then printed onto the paper. After applying the hot wax to the paper, she manipulated and worked the surface with different tools to alter the photos’ appearance. When the installation is hung, Rothstein wants the effect to be that of a cascading waterfall of boats that float and revolve in the air, catching the light.

Water is a prominent feature in Rothstein’s work. It figures in many artists’ work, of course, but Rothstein can trace her preoccupation back to a childhood incident in which she and her father were boating on the Delaware River, near their Bethlehem, Pa. home. The boat capsized and Rothstein struggled to get back to the surface, as she was trapped under the boat.

“I remember that sensation of looking through the water,” Rothstein said.

Since then Rothstein, who got her B.A. and M.F.A. in photography at Boston University, has continually returned to the themes of water and landscape. Her photographs and multi-media works are in numerous collections, including the Polaroid International Photography Collection. In 2009, she also founded the since-closed White River Junction gallery Photostop. She’s not a representational artist, however, and has never really been interested in being one.

“My interest is more in capturing the feeling of a place,” she said. “I’m more interested in capturing movement, and making an image of light reflected off a surface. When I look at a landscape, as a photograph, I see the graphic elements, the lines that form the composition, more than, ‘This is a nice lily pad.’ ”

Rothstein likes the encaustic technique, which can be traced back to ancient Rome and Egypt, because the artist has to move very quickly when it’s ready for use. “(The wax) doesn’t stay static, it’s always moving, melting. You cannot prethink anything,” she said. Further, it results in a one-of-a-kind art work because the nature of the technique makes it impossible to reproduce an image exactly.

That singularity is echoed in what the great 20th century photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called the “decisive moment.”

“You’re capturing that 250th of a second that may never be that way again,” Rothstein said. “It’s that memory of a moment, it’s not a literal interpretation, but what you see in it.”

Photography isn’t about the thing itself, Rothstein said, but about what it looks like when it’s photographed. And subject matter can be found anywhere, she said.

“I don’t feel I have to go to the Great Wall of China to make the same picture everybody else does. You can see something beautiful and amazing everywhere. It’s about caring about it, and being observant,” she said.

There will be an opening reception from 3 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and Rothstein will also give a gallery talk at 4 p.m. the same day.

Also opening Saturday at the museum is its outdoor sculpture garden, which features painted saplings by Norwich artist Jay Mead. The trees draw attention to the issue of inaction on climate change. Mead’s sculptures can be seen through Nov. 1. Mead will also give a gallery talk at 4:30 on Saturday as part of the reception. Tracy Penfield will give an interpretative dance based on Mead’s sculpture at 5 p.m.

For information call the Aidron Duckworth Art Museum at 603-469-3444 or go to www.aidronduckworthmuseum..org.

Of Note

I t’s the last weekend to see a small but choice show about Edward Hopper at the South Royalton Library . Hopper, one of this country’s most famous and admired painters, spent a few summers in the late 1930s in the White River Valley, staying with his wife , Jo Hopper, at Wagon Wheels Farm on Route 110 in South Royalton. From there he ventured out to sketch and paint the area’s hills, sugarhouses and the twists and turns of the White River and its branches.

Bonnie Clause, a part-time resident of South Royalton, and author of Edward Hopper in Vermont , has loaned much of her research to the show. There is the guest book from Wagon Wheels Farm, showing Hopper’s signature; photos of the Slater family, owners of Wagon Wheels; and a photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt, who also was a guest at Wagon Wheels, although she never crossed paths with the Hoppers. (It might have been awkward, given the Hoppers’ disapproval of her politics.)

Although there are no original Hoppers on view, there are reproductions, as well as reproductions of Hopper’s journals, in which he catalogued the watercolors he made in South Royalton. Helpfully, there’s also a map of the White River Valley which shows the locations where Hopper did his sketches and watercolors. The great thing is, you can still see many of the places just as Hopper saw them. You can see the map at www.hoppervermont.com/map-of-hopper-sites.

The exhibition continues through Saturday.

O ngoing

Arabella , Windsor. The gallery exhibits works by local artists and artisans in a variety of media including jewelry, oils, acrylics, photography, watercolors, pastels and textiles.

AVA Gallery and Art Center , Lebanon. A show of works by Paul Gruhler, Judith Wrend, Fitzhugh Karol and Christine Hawkins continues through July 10. Kira’s Garden, the outdoor sculpture garden, is open through Nov. 22.

Big Town Gallery , Rochester , Vt . “¡Viva Cuba!,” a show of photographs by Cuban and American photographers, continues through July 11.

Center for Cartoon Studies , White River Junction. The senior thesis exhibition is up through Sunday.

Chandler Gallery , Randolph. Regional art is on view through Sunday.

Converse Free Library , Lyme. The Betty Grant Gallery exhibits mosaics by Greg Gorman until July 31.

Aidron Duckworth Art Museum , Meriden. A show of work by Duckworth, “Early Passages in Color,” continues through July 26.

Hall Art Foundation , Reading, Vt. Works by Keith Sonnier and Peter Saul, as well as outdoor sculptures by Richard Deacon, Marc Quinn and Olafur Eliasson, are on view through Nov. 9.

Hood Museum of Art , Hanover. Works by Nigerian artist Victor Ekpuk are on view through Aug. 2. “About Face: Self-Portraiture in Contemporary Art,” is on view through Aug. 30. “Ukara: Ritual Cloth of the Ekpe Secret Society,” a show of Nigerian and Cameroonian textiles , continues through Aug. 2. “Water Ways: Tension and Flow,” an exhibition of photographs that focus on the relationship between humans and water, is on view through Aug. 23.

Howe Library , Hanover. A show of photographs of Cuba by Violetta Faulkner is in the library’s Ledyard Gallery through July 29.

Library Arts Center , Newport. The Juried Regional Exhibition ends today.

Long River Gallery and Gifts , Lyme. “An Abstract Conversation: The Art of Mary Jane Morse of Lebanon Meets the Jewelry of Case Hathaway-Zepeda of Norwich” has been extended until July 31.

Main Street Museum of Art , White River Junction. The museum’s permanent collection is on view

Norwich Public Library . A retrospective of work by Rebecca Gottesman, “Sweet Memories: 25 Years of Making Art,” runs through June 30.

Norman Williams Library , Woodstock. Textile art is on view in the mezzanine gallery through June 30.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site , Cornish. The permanent collection is on view through Oct. 31. As part of its picture gallery exhibitions, the site features the sculpture of David Shaw through July 5.

Scavenger Gallery , White River Junction. “Tropical,” a show of paintings by Sigrid Lium , is on view.