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Cornish Artist Riffs on the Past and Future of Farming and Food



Thursday, January 28, 2016
Adam Blue, an artist and education director at the AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon, has put a unique spin on an American icon: the tractor.

Over the years Blue, who grew up in the Bay Area of northern California and went to college at Dartmouth, became fascinated by tractor pulls at classic New England fairs, the pride and affection that farmers felt for their mechanical beasts and the care they lavished on them.

Blue began taking photographs of tractors, and then turned them into prints filtered through a Pop Art lens, with the tractors taking on the brilliant primary colors of a Warhol silk screen series.

“It’s a passionate yet slightly esoteric interest,” said Blue in an interview at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, where an exhibition of his work, including “Pop Art Vintage Tractors,” runs through March 4 in Oakes Hall. The exhibition is sponsored by the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems.

What emerges in the prints is the personality of the tractor, odd as that may sound. Blue noticed that the tractors, seen head-on, began to look as if they had faces, an optical illusion augmented by Blue’s choice of colors. Blue does his work on computers using PhotoShop and other programs.

In the post-war era the tractor, in form and function, demonstrated the “ascendance of the the American capacity to produce,” Blue said.

Blue is also showing two other print series, “An Organic Palette,” and “Cookbook 2314,” both of which tie into larger themes of sustenance, production and food systems.

In “An Organic Palette,” which is a play of words on both our sense of taste, and the palette used by artists to mix color, Blue takes photographs of the vegetables that he and his wife, and their two young children, grow at their home in Cornish. (They grow more than 50 variet ies of vegetable each year.)

Above the photograph, Blue displays a grid of colors associated with the given vegetable, so that the pink and white of a radish, the purple of a pepper or the orange glow of a pumpkin, are reflected in the corresponding grid. The grids come with their own artistic associations, from the color theories of Josef Albers, the influential artist and teacher at Yale, to the dazzle of Op Art. It’s a non-verbal communication. the more time you spend with plants, the more you can understand them.

Next up is “Cookbook 2314,” a futurist cookbook inspired both by dystopian science fiction and 16th-through-18th-century prints that catalogued the flora and fauna that fascinated European explorers in the Americas, Asia and Africa.

“There was a weird, wonky relationship between the excitement of discovery and what they were trying to depict,” Blue said, noting that the old illustrations sometimes veer closer to fantasy.

Blue is a fan of dystopian literature and film, but tired of dystopian films’ predilection for explosive violence. Instead he imagined himself leaving behind the exhausted cities of dystopia for the countryside, where he would need to produce his own food. For “Cookbook 2314,” Blue did a series of gouache drawings of his fantastical creatures and plants, coupled with text and recipes.

The cookbook describes such foods as the Ghost Root, the Picant and Bluetooth berries, all of which bear enough of a resemblance to real foods to persuade you that they’re real, not invented. Blue devised his own edible recipes for the foods, and readily acknowledges that, yes, you can substitute for such (made-up) ingredients as picant and the herb lemoline.

Blue is now working on another book about an imaginary artist, who lived in Cornish, which will address how we write history.

Between his job at AVA, where he also teaches, and his art books, family life and gardening, Blue works almost all the time, he said. Sleep is in short supply.

But that is the sacrifice he makes. “Art is such a beautiful thing, it’s such an opportunity for play,” Blue said.

Openings and Receptions

C olby-Sawyer Colleg e in New London will exhibit in the Marian Graves Mugar Art Gallery the show “Unassigned,”which looks at contemporary art, craft and design by artists across the country. Here’s a chance to view the cutting edge in video art, photography, handmade books, posters, collage, prints and installations. Think multi, think media.

There will be an opening reception in the gallery this afternoon from 5 to 7. The exhibition will be on view through Tuesday, Feb. 23. The gallery, which is free to the public, is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

O ngoing

Arabella Gallery ,Windsor. A show of photographs by David Nelson, Cassie Nyberg George, Nate Larson, Marv Klassen-L andis, Ann Roy and Rick Nader, all of Windsor, and John Severance of Norwich, runs through Friday. The photographers are donating their work to Volunteers in Action, a community program affiliated with Mt. Ascutney Hospital.

ArtisTree Gallery , South Pomfret. “The Daily Artists Exhibit,” a show of paintings, drawings, fiber, ceramics, jewelry and photography, runs through Feb. 6.

AVA Gallery and Art Center , Lebanon. The prints, oils, photography and watercolors of Sabra Field, Ingrid Ellison, Mark Lennon, Robert Morgan and Everett Weber are on view through Feb. 5.

Big T own Gallery , Rochester , Vt. “Hot Houses-Warm Curves,” an exhibition of painting, drawing and photography by Rick Skogsberg, Peter Moriarty and Anda Dubinskis has been extended through Feb. 20. A closing reception is planned for Feb. 14 with a BYOB potluck lunch at noon. Call the gallery to RSVP.

Converse Free Library , Lyme. The paintings of Matthew Greenway are on view until March 31 .

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center , Lebanon. The photographs of Elliot Burg are on view, as well as works by the Cardigan Mountain Art Association, Greg Hubbard, Wayne King, Jean Gerber and Pamela Tarbell. The works on view can be seen through March.

Hood Museum of Art , Hanover. “Contemporary Abstraction,” a show of works from the museum’s permanent collection , is on view through March 13: it includes works from Dartmouth faculty, Colleen Randall and Brenda Garand, and New York artist Pat Steir. Also on view through March 13 are paintings by Vermont artist Eric Aho; and “Inventory: New Works and Conversations Around African Art.”

Hopkins Center , Dartmouth College. A Visiting Faculty exhibition continues in the Strauss Gallery while the Jaffe-Friede Gallery exhibits the sculpture of current artist-in-residence Mia Westerlund Roosen. Both exhibitions run through March 13.

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 Sunday.

Long River Galleries and Gifts , Lyme. The handmade jewelry of Lynn Adams, Sandy Bomhower and Mariah Whitcomb is on view through Feb. 29. Paintings by Mary Jane Morse, the Winter River series, are also on view.

Norwich Public Library . A traveling art show celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, “Wonderland Forever,” continues through Feb. 28.

Royalton Memorial Library , South Royalton. The SoRo Fiber Crafters show rugs, quilts and embroidery through Feb. 13.

Scavenger Gallery , White River Junction. Drawings by Toby Bartles and wooden bowls by Ria Blaas are on view through next Thursday.

Tunbridge Library . The paintings of Chelsea artist Dian Parker are up through March 6.

Two Rivers Print making Studio , White River Junction. The holiday show continues through Sunday.

Norman Williams Public Library , Woodstock. The landscape studies of Sue Lenfest are on view through Feb. 11.

W hite River Gallery , South Royalton. “Lynn Newcomb’s Etchings: The Power of Black Ink ” is on view through April.

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