With “Unbound, “at Burlington BCA Center, curator Heather Ferrell has created a remarkably cohesive exhibition of abstract works by Rachel gross, Rob hitzig and Kirsten reynolds. The three artists work in painted wood and reject the rectangular frame, this traditional impersonal and limiting format in art and architecture. They are also linked by a playful interest in making viewers question what they see – using imagination and storytelling to engage in art.
Viewers entering Church Street enter a mystery. Reynolds’ “Spillover,” commissioned by the BCA and created specifically for the gallery front room, consists of three ventilated 3D grids framing two by four. Some of the extrusion posts are capped with long painted arches of curved plywood. A fragment – a brief arch attached to a pole – rests on the side of a structure as if it had been thrown or fallen.
The constructions almost fill the space, eclipsing human visitors. Tilted to the side, they force viewers to walk a single path around them wondering, What happened here?
Reynolds, an installation artist based in Newmarket, NH, wrote her MA thesis for the Maine College of Art & Design on carnival in art and culture. This vast network led her to take an interest in theoretical approaches to architecture. “Spillover” overturns the traditional idea of architecture as stable and completed spaces that last. The installation oscillates between on the verge of being completed and abandonment; either story seems valid.
“Spillover” even destabilizes the idea of a built structure. In a comedic blink of an eye, the “grain” of the two-by-fours has been meticulously painted, and the sets of wooden dowels protruding where the planks intersect (and sometimes where they don’t) simply create the illusion of posts and beams. construction. The frame is actually held on with hidden screws.
Reached by phone, Reynolds called her work “moving away” from that of abstract minimalists such as Donald Judd and Richard Serra. Speaking of the scale and materials of these sculptors – Serra’s massive steel sheets, Judd’s 100 aluminum cans in Marfa, TX – Reynolds noted “an overwhelming macho about their work, like, I am here; take it or leave it.
“I find that as a woman artist, being slightly subversive, a con artist with materials, is a way of reacting and of criticizing these predecessors,” she added.
Abstract minimalism also influenced Hitzig, who has four works in “Unbound”. The Montpellier artist creates paintings on wood shaped into unique wall forms whose surfaces play with depth.
“Onotonto”, commissioned by the BCA, is a seven-sided birch panel, 44 inches high and 66 wide. From a distance, it appears painted in a way that emphasizes its polygonal shape: interlocking bands of color demarcate the shape in decreasing size until they enclose a small white triangle in the center.
But a closer look reveals a lot beneath this controlled geometric surface: Radial graphite lines seem to refer to abandoned intention, and the tinted shellac has spread like stains of watercolor, intersecting lines of acrylic paint. dripping.
After gluing and painting the color strips, Hitzig applies a coat of clear shellac, then rubs and sandes it alternately until it gets a luster that still retains the texture, he explained during ‘a phonecall. More texture comes from two initial coats of gesso applied perpendicular to the intact wood surface, creating a woven look.
Although painted the same way, the seven-sided “Aspienta”, another commission, has an entirely different shape than “Onotonto” and “Noringatt” has six sides. (Hitzig’s absurd titles are meant to elicit imaginative engagement, according to one label.)
An earlier work from 2012 to which Hitzig returned in 2020, “Always There,” consists of four joined maple panels with a high-gloss shellac finish that highlights the grain of the wood. On closer inspection, the panels are not entirely flat. Each is a corner, joined in a way that evokes a screen.
Shaped paintings have a long history, but rose to prominence in the 1960s, especially due to the main influence of Frank Stella – Hitzig. However, Hitzig, a self-taught artist, brings a whole different toolbox to his shaped work.
A former Peace Corps volunteer who spent three years as a forester in Benin and Senegal, Hitzig brought his interest in wood back to Washington, DC, where he began making furniture at a carpentry club while working for the United States Environmental Protection Agency. He moved to Vermont in 2004 to focus on making art from wood. But Hitzig continued to apply shellac to his artwork – a painstaking furniture finishing skill he learned at the carpentry club – for the sense of depth it brings.
“The depth on a flat surface, multiple levels at the same time, creating a mystery – hopefully it’s confusing, but a confusion that appeals to you,” the artist said of his work.
Gross’s shaped plywood paintings play even more directly with the viewer’s sense of depth. An engraver by training, the artist from Hartland received his MFA from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University in Philadelphia. She has a quartet of relief and intaglio woodblock prints on the show titled “Pine Wraith”, “Album”, “Carapace” and “Anchor”. The works create the illusion of depth by layering polygonal and organic shapes, some conforming to the rectangular boundaries of the paper and others extending beyond so that their shapes appear to be cut by the frames.
Gross takes a keen interest in the texture of these prints, as well as his three large wall works on shaped plywood. These actually incorporate finely textured prints, cut and glued onto sections of plywood. In some cases, viewers need to determine which wood grains are printed and which are real.
“Ascension,” a 32-by-48-inch piece, is made from just three overlapping pieces of plywood, but Gross’s techniques make it appear that many more surfaces are raised. Fine-grained prints in different colors overlap or create seemingly solid edges with visually contrasting surfaces, complicating borders throughout. Fluorescent orange and pink spray paint bordering a center box lends an illusory glow and depth to the form, as if the box is rising skyward.
“Ladder”, another work on plywood, is a collection of geometric planes that can move away or advance in space, folded over one another or unfold. A sky blue polygon near the top of the work, associated with the title, appears to imply the end point of the scale.
Gross said of his art: “It comes down to the idea that art creates a fantasy world in which you can move – like it’s this window to a space that draws you in, the idea that there is a secret room. ”
In particular, the work of the three artists in “Unbound” suggests secret pieces. It’s up to viewers to conjure them up.