If you walk through “Face It”, an exhibition at Studio Place Arts in Barre, you might feel like you’re being watched. No, not by surveillance cameras – by the artwork. But the faces look harmless enough, most of the time.
“Face It” is a large group exhibition of portraits – nearly 80 pieces by 35 artists. Most are two-dimensional; the rest, sculptures or other objects. Not all of their subjects look directly at the viewer; in fact, a few pieces have no discernible eyes. But the intensity of so many gazes gives the gallery an intimate, somewhat vulnerable side.
And, of course, the point of being there is to look back.
With so much artwork, the initial challenge is knowing where to direct your eyes first. But the large acrylic painting on the back wall, “Portrait #158” by Charles Lysogorsky, successfully claims attention. The close-up face of a man with distorted features, oversized glasses and salt-and-pepper hair is a little disturbing but also amusing. His caricatural face contrasts with the elegant portraits of Anne Young and August burns on one side and a unique piece sewn in relief and embroidered by Elizabeth Fram“The Woolgatherer”, on the other.
Agathe McQueston’s “Siouxsie” also incorporates stitching in a striking mixed-media portrait of a woman with red hair and hooded blue eyes. A stately hat and stole made from artificial leaves contribute to Siouxsie’s haughty, don’t mess with me attitude.
Evyenia Coufos went straight for the leaves – the real ones – for his remarkable collage, “Autumn Self-Portrait”. Creating one’s likeness from dried plant materials glued to a piece of drywall is a special type of invention. Its earthy assemblage resembles both human and spirit.
The variety of supports of the SPA salon contributes to its attractiveness. And, um, let’s face it, people-watching is irresistible, even if “people” are made of rocks, feathers, or clay. Moreover, the size and diversity of the exhibition has a democratizing effect – a curatorial approach that ensures that every visitor will find their favourites.
For this viewer, a few other pieces particularly stand out. First and foremost, realistic portraits, including self-portraits, of Burns, Young and Ed Epstein. Although their styles differ, these artists create masterful, nuanced and emotionally resonant paintings of the highest caliber.
A simple chromogenic print entitled “Gaze”, by Tuyen My Nguyen, captivates with adorableness. Her close-up subject is a brown-eyed toddler of undetermined sex. Framed by dark, curly hair, the child’s face is both innocent and wise, pleading and a bit sad at the same time. The expression sounds like a plea – not for a cookie but for a world that makes sense.
Therese Celemin often paints eccentric figures in surreal colors, and “Twelve Women” is no exception. Here, a dozen pastel-hued female faces are stacked in a four-by-three grid, each a little spooky in its own way. Yet, somehow, the multiplication gives this composition a feminine side. Call it strength in numbers.
Goosebumps can be a virtue in the right hands. Among a group of solid clay works on pedestals, Susan H. Wilson“Voices” has an imposing presence. The oversized male head has heavy features, including rather demonic eyes. Wilson worked a dark matte medium into the sandstone, emphasizing the ominous physiognomy of his subject. Somewhat paradoxically, it also created a beautifully rich surface texture. But the most notable detail of this piece is an equally sinister “Mini-Me” head protruding from the top of the big head – possibly the source of the vocals. Yeah.
Provide comic relief, Will WoottonThe playful 3D “portraits” of are made up of river rocks and other found objects of various shapes and sizes. Think Mr. Potato Head created by the Flintstones.