Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Friends of the Willoughby Wallace Memorial Library Art Show, Stony Creek, Conn.

Thank you for inviting me to judge this year’s Friends of the Willoughby Wallace Memorial Library art show.

It is always a great pleasure to discover within one small community such a variety of art-making—and a veritable battalion of artists, something in the vicinity of sixty-seven adults. I congratulate you all.

For most of my first forty years I lived in Australia, which is the reverse of Connecticut. You may therefore detect an instinctive preoccupation with marsh-scape that emerges from your judge’s decisions. This is mainly because on the driest continent marshes are comparatively rare, and “thimble island” almost unheard-of. So I was to some degree as intrigued and delighted by the strong sense of place that comes through the work you see here, as I was impressed by its overall quality. I was also intrigued to discover that many of the works in this show remind me of the work of some fine Australian artists, whom most of you will never have heard of. Anyway, let me begin with the ten honorable mentions.

I have always liked triptychs and three-part works, as well as square or nearly square formats, so playful number 60 stood out. Likewise, anyone attempting to seduce me should know that intense color will do the trick: With its inner fire and maybe hint of Rothko, number 42 obviously deserved recognition. I approve of fairies, so I had to include here the site-specific “faerie fish-tail reading a fishy fairy tale,” number 14. The quayside photograph, number 83, is for the foot-fetishists of Stony Creek, who are not always catered for in art shows. Nor should we forget the decorative arts, and I admired the splendidly shapely shell-wreath, number 116. The essential curiosity of those thimbles that have houses built on them jumped out at me from the beautiful photograph that is number 98. Pleasing memories of Joseph Cornell’s boxes, and the faintest whiff of patchouli led me toward the Hippy-flavored number 20. Sculpture is the senior visual art, and imaginary birds delight me, so I give a prize to eccentric “Fiona” and her assertive progeny, number 46. There is a Zen Buddhist in our midst, and I salute the essential twinned brushstrokes of the person who created the visual poem in number 16. Finally, number 34 made me want to hear the Stony Creek Drum Corps, who have obviously inspired a young artist who shows great promise.

Prizes for four media-specific categories were awarded: prints, photographs, watercolors, and oil paintings. The large view of thimbles across straw-colored estuarine marshes struck me as a smooth professional production, and a generous nod toward the art of watercolor, so number 10 wins the prize in the print category.

Eerie silence, thoughtfulness, simplicity, and dry wit distinguished the wintry small view across harbor-ice, number 68, which wins the photography section—amid strong competition.

The watercolor was hard to judge, there being so many different approaches to the medium here, from the pyrotechnic swagger piece to tiny introverted views. My choice here was therefore very personal, Number 70, the view in saturating afternoon light through big rooms with small windows, and over a porch, to a stretch of water in the distance on the other side, carried me home to the lakes of East Gippsland, and claimed the prize in watercolor—again, with very strong competition, a photo finish one might say.

Coming as I do from a western democracy, I felt it was important that the winner of the first prize should not automatically pick up the prize for oil painting. So for that category I selected the modest, small, but deliciously fresh, autumnal, Dufy-esque town roof-scape along route 146—is it the Market?—a classy picture, beautifully done.

First, Second, and Third Prizes are tricky creatures. In the end, one is swayed by the collision of at least several artistic choices that seem either unusual or distinctive or delightful, and of course the taste buds do kick in. So, in ascending order, for the third prize I chose
Night Passage, The Thimbles, number 53, especially pleased and heartened to find that in your midst there appears to be a conceptual artist hard at work. Part of me was also charmed by the fact that this artist obviously uses charts and maps, as did seventeenth-century Dutch and English topographical artists, but that’s another story. Congratulations therefore to number 53.

The second prize reminded me so very much of a senior Queensland painter called Bill Robinson, whom I like and respect very much. Like Bill, this artist plays games by making simple choices of subject and directing your eyes in slightly vertiginous, possibly wobbly directions. I am talking about the person who drew number 74, a rock-plopping, water-side, heavy-paper, pastel rock-scape. Congratulations to him or her.

Finally there are two things you should know about me. First, I grew up in a chlorophyll vacuum, without intense greens, and therefore sharp greens, high-key greens, electrical, toxic-level, Technicolor greens provide me with moments of considerable excitement. Conversely, American visitors to Australia begin to suffer chlorophyll withdrawal symptoms after a while. (This is useful knowledge.) Second, in my work at the British Art Center in New Haven, in theory I am supposed to know a lot about eh Pre-Raphaelites, those rather irritating young Englishmen who in 1848 turned landscape painting on its head. Therefore, I was delighted to discover a super-saturated Post-Pre-Raphaelite rock-bordered marsh-scape with tall, bunched and threading sea grass in the foreground, and a thrilling cry of green hanging over the middle distance. Therefore to the painter of number 57 I give the first prize—with warm congratulations to all his or her fellow prize winners, and to everyone else who took that unnerving step of entering their work in the first place.

I thank you for giving me a very enjoyable morning in Stony Creek.

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