Well-Cultivated 

The Women's Show at Stewart Gallery

Making art is most often a solitary affair. In fact, of all the characteristics that describe art making, the most important one may be the kind of privacy it generates. Undoubtedly, a great deal of the attraction and the pull of artwork comes from its being evidence of well-cultivated solitude. I might even say that the cultivation of solitude is a necessary enlargement of our realm and that making art and appreciating it are among the most important ways we tend to that need.

Art embodies the attitude in which it was made. Therefore the cultivation of solitude can become a quality of the work. You can see it; it sticks to the artwork and gives it a specific kind of aura. You get the sense that aesthetic decisions were contemplated and not conscripted. You get the sense that the finished piece was worked toward and mulled over as opposed to prescribed and produced. Yeats dubbed it "negative capability," meaning that in order to create something good one has to, at times, be able to feel one's way through the dark. If the finished work can be clearly seen before the act of creating begins, then this quality I'm talking about will most likely be absent and the work runs the risk of coming across as more of a product or craft project than an artwork. Before I get too out of hand here I'll sum up by stating that one of the qualities of good art is the way it represents the contemplation it came from.

And, in my opinion, the best work in the third annual Women's Show at Stewart Gallery shares this quality. It's clear that owner and contributing artist Stephanie Wilde has an admiration and sensitivity to it.

Each year the Women's Show is kicked off with a Women's Luncheon. (I, of course, being such an imposing hyperbole of masculinity, did not attend.) The following day, however, my swarthy spectacle no longer a potential distraction, I visited the gallery. The first thing that struck me was the small portion sizes. Nearly all the pieces in the show are under 20-inches square and many are half that size. But as any good gourmet knows when there are 12 courses to a meal, it's best to keep them small. The 12 contributors are: Deborah Barrett, Stephanie Wilde, Lora Stoyanova, Andrea Gutierrez, Dana Costello, Laura Ragan, Lys Beckman, Karen Bubb, Holly Gilchrist, Mary Anne Hansen, Karen Woods and Barbara Bartholomew.

Deborah Barrett's small drawings of mixed media on paper include Nude Woman w/ Sienna Cape and Man in Japanese Red Cape. The heads of the figures are finely modeled pencil works and have the feel of old photographic portraiture. These are pasted to fit onto simple line drawn bodies of a much more imaginative nature. The result is a contrast and combination of realms. In addition to Barrett's drawings there are several small figurative sculptures. These have a special kind of humility and presence that comes, in part, from their mundane material and tentative form. The heads and torsos are made from what looks like plaster and a resin or wax soaked fabric and rest atop legs made out of split slats and thin gauge wire. It sounds banal, except that somewhere in the combination of plain materials and tentative structure lurks contemplation and a living quality.

Andrea Gutierrez's canvases seem to be about the passage of time. As paintings they are opaque and neutral. What makes them interesting and gives them depth are the small cut lines, which reminded me of chopping block histories, or the slow emergence of a texture through erosion. In addition, many of the pieces are studded with hand-stitched beadwork that meanders down free hand lines and are then abandoned. The patterns they start to indicate and leave behind could be myopic or they could be suddenly perfect.

Lora Stoyanova's small still lifes are nice examples of the quality of cultivated solitude. They are full of the small trials and experiments of depiction that make painting and drawing interesting to the person who is doing it. And while still lifes are traditionally studies of actual objects these seem more like studies of the paintings they are becoming as they are becoming them.

Other notables include Dana Costello's creamy smooth metaphorical fantasies that read like disturbing stills from a gothic cartoon. Mary Anne Hansen's delectables celebrate the substance and color of oil paint. Karen Woods' small streetscapes capture the tones of weather and light beautifully and Stephanie Wilde's series entitled Veneers are visually spare and metaphorically suggestive.

The Women's Show, through June 23, Stewart Gallery, 2212 Main St., 433-0593.

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