Color and Form

Thursday, November 26, 2015
T he paintings of Robyn Whitney Fairclough are awash in color. Fairclough paints the human figure, often children and young adults, in landscapes and interiors, but the shimmering, glowing reds, blues, yellows and greens she uses to animate her scenes, take on their own life.

Fairclough, whose works can be seen in the show “Moving On” at the Taylor Gallery at Kimball Union Academy’s Flickinger Arts Center in Meriden through Dec. 16, is not exactly a throwback. Many artists paint figures, of course, and you can’t become an artist without learning how to draw the human body. But in post-war America, abstract expressionism ruled, followed by decades of “isms”: photo realism, superrealism, minimalism, conceptualism.

So, in some sense, Fairclough, although she is represented by prestigious galleries in New York City, Germany and Connecticut, is going against the prevailing currents of the marketplace. It’s a contradiction of which she’s well aware. But color is how she expresses the psychology of a moment.

“I’ve always loved color,” said Fairclough in an interview at the Taylor Gallery, where she is exhibiting large-scale oils, smaller studies of the human form, and, in a new development, still lifes of flowers .

As a student working toward an M.F.A. in painting from the Vermont Studio Center at Johnson State College, she gravitated toward more neutral, natural tones until one of her professors, the Abstract Expressionist painter Jim Gahagan, who worked with Hans Hoffman, looked at her oils and said, “Use red!”

“It really opened up a lot of areas that I hadn’t used before,” Fairclough said. “Red is such a vibrant temperature.”

She began to study more closely the works of Matisse, one of the greatest 20th century colorists, analyzing how color could construct space, how it could make different fields of a painting recede or advance.

A viewer experiences one of the large-scale paintings in Fairclough’s show at KUA, Unquiet Dreams From Tears first as color and pattern, and then as a subtle arrangement of shapes and forms which emerge more clearly the more time a viewer spends with the work.

Two young women are in the foreground, while two younger children are seen, through an open door, sitting on the ground. One of the young women stares impassively outward, while the other young woman is seen in profile. On the left-hand side of the painting is a large, more abstract, Matisse-like pattern that both buttresses the young women, and could stand alone.

“I always paint my world. I paint my kids,” said Fairclough, who has a son and twin daughters, all in their late teens. In her canvases, people share space, in rooms, on beaches, near ponds, but aren’t necessarily in synch emotionally.

“I was interested in people being in one space, but not engaged,” Fairclough said.

Now living in Norwich, she lived for many years in Woodstock and had a studio in Hartland until a devastating fire in the fall of 2010 destroyed 35 years of work, as well as her collection of books and journals. She was able to salvage some drawings from file cabinets, but otherwise lost nearly everything. Because she had shows scheduled for later that year, it gave her, she said, the “impetus to keep going.”

What comes through, in Fairclough’s use of color, and arrangement of form, is the interior life of a figure, even though she doesn’t insist on painting a human face in full detail. This is not photorealist painting that shows every pore, wrinkle or blemish, or the exact placement of an arm, leg or hand.

“I’m not after it being anatomically correct, it’s simplified and generalized but not distorted,” she said.

Lately she has been doing studies of flowers, smaller-scale paintings of roses and hydrangeas that have the concentrated luminous color of stained glass.

It can take up to a year to complete one of her larger paintings, and she often revisits them, making changes to areas she doesn’t like. But she has also learned not t o tweak endlessly, feeling that a painting is ready when it achieves a synthesis of color, composition and psychological insight.

“I let the process dictate the result,” she said.

“Moving On” continues at the Taylor Gallery at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden through Dec. 16. For more information about Fairclough’s work, go to http://robynwfairclough.com.

Openings and Receptions

The day after Thanksgiving, aka Black Friday, has turned into a consumer free-for-all, as crazed holiday shoppers descend on big box stores to line up in the wee hours of the morning so they can pick up the latest in technological gizmos. Think of it as a capitalist running of the bulls at Pamplona.

But if that is not your idea of a good time, you might want to head over to the AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon, which holds an opening Friday evening from 5 to 7 p.m. for its annual holiday exhibition and sale.

Buying a work of art for the holidays is a great present for friends and family, and it’s beneficial for the artist, too. A wide range of objects in a variety of media will be on view in all of AVA’s groundfloor galleries, including oils, watercolor, drawing, printmaking, mixed media, photography, ceramics, textiles, sculpture, jewelry and glasswork.

The sale continues through Dec. 24.

Of Note

A VA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon has received a $10,000 grant from The Lane and Elizabeth C. Dwinell Charitable Trust. to support its general operations, which include free or low-cost arts programming. The gallery is in the middle of a $3.5 million capital campaign to fund a planned expansion.

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.

ArtisTree Gallery , South Pomfret. The “Small Works” holiday show, which includes gifts for the holidays, runs through Dec. 20.

AVA Gallery and Art Center , Lebanon. “Collages of Color: Recent Work from Art Lab Classes at AVA,” runs through Saturday.

Big Town Gallery , Rochester , Vt . Hot Houses-Warm Curves, an exhibition of painting, drawing and photography, runs through Dec. 12.

Converse Free Library , Lyme. The Betty Grant Gallery exhibits “People and Places,” a show of photographs by Anne Baird and Nora Palmer Gould, until Dec. 31.

H all 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 Sunday, when the foundation closes for the year.

Hood Museum of Art , Hanover. Three shows about collecting run through Dec. 6: they are “Canaletto’s Vedute Prints: An Exhibition in Honor of Adolph Weil, Jr.;” “The Stahl Collection,” and “Collecting and Sharing: Trevor Fairbrother, John T. Kirk, and the Hood Museum of Art.”

Howe Library , Hanover. “Dreams and Monsters: Portraits and Words from the 19th Century,” a show of portraits of 19th century luminaries by David Westby, runs through Wednesday .

Kilton Public Library , West Lebanon. The watercolors of sisters Patti Rutledge Warren and Rosalie Rutledge desGroseilliers are on view in “We Paint Together,” which runs through Jan. 31 .

Library Arts Center , Newport. The LAC’s holiday Gallery of Gifts is open through Dec. 23.

Long River Galleries and Gifts , Lyme. The watercolors of Matt Brown are on view through Jan. 12.

Main Street Museum of Art , White River Junction. “Queering the Lines,” a show of work by Rebecca Levi, continues through December.

Montshire Museum of Science , Norwich. Works by illustrator Adelaide Tyrol, whose work has been seen in Northern Woodlands magazine, is on view in “The Outside Story” through Sunday.

Norwich Public Library . “Fluid Landscapes,” a show of work by painter Georgina Forbes, runs through D ecember.

Royalton Memorial Library , South Royalton. The ceramics of Monique van de Ven are on view through Dec. 5.

Scavenger Gallery , White River Junction. “Speculative Biology?,” a show of illustrations and illustrated books by Luke Eastman and Adam Blue, runs through Dec. 3.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site , Cornish. The exhibition buildings are now closed for the season. The visitors’ center is open, and outdoor sculptures are still on view.

Tunbridge Public Library . “The Bowl, A Celebration,” an exhibition of bowls made by students from the Tunbridge Central School runs until Dec. 31.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio , White River Junction. The work of Lois Beatty and Elizabeth Mayor is on view through Monday .

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.

art notes