“Repartee” at the Phyllis Weston Gallery

By Lily Mulberry

‏In Repartee, the current exhibition at the Phyllis Weston Gallery, the gallery brings together the work of classic, modern, and contemporary artists which appear to come mostly from the gallery’s existing inventory, a display of mostly paintings spanning both eras and regions. Although it bears mentioning that there’s a Chagall in the front room, for the purpose of this review three contemporary painters were chosen from the mostly disjointed group of artists in the show.

‏In the center room of the gallery two pieces by local artist Paula Wiggins light up the space with their dramatic and emotional use of color. The work typifies the artist’s use of collage and heavy layering of paint, tied together by loose and gestural line drawing. The use of scientific texts, in this case images of insects and strange unidentifiable objects lead the viewer to believe they are peering into a cutaway of a place otherwise unknown to the outside world. Wiggins seems to strive for a private intimate scene in the piece, where she hints at the deeply emotional hidden world under the surface, but then falls short at translating this intimacy to the viewer. A page of old german text lines a sky over a gauzy hillside. Rich dramatic colors shape the contours of the landscape and give it a season or a time of day, or an expression almost facial. Time spent with Paula Wiggins’ work in Repartee is time spent gazing both in and out of the paint, finally being caught somewhere in between, and left with few conclusions.

‏A large oil canvas by Michael Stillion featuring folds of patterned and striped fabric hangs on the wall facing Madison Road as you enter the gallery, and another quite different piece by the artist of similar size from the artist’s Night series adorns the wall behind it in the next room. Stillion’s work is given prominence for good reason, not the least of which is his recent nomination for the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award. In Bear Suit Sculpture from Night, the artist depicts a bear hide mounted upon a skeletal assembly and propping of sticks and branches beneath the stark light of a crude lamp. Here and there a random glove or shoe are added to the monstrous form, while two eery eyes stare out from the darkest place beneath the sticks and bear hide. The paint application plays between loose and naive with splashes of color, and highly rendered detail and modeling, causing the piece to visually fold in and out of itself. The painting makes real a strange nightmare and then laughs at it. The audience is invited in and shown that it is all staged, the spotlight illuminating the absurdity of the whole setting, while the eyes in the corner reveal the puppeteer. Work by this rising star is fresh, whimsical, and a delight to see in any gallery setting. The two large paintings in the show make it worth a stop if you need to get your Stillion fix for the day.

‏With five pieces in the show, Michael Scott is beyond a doubt the honored out of towner in the exhibition, although none of the work will be new to people familiar with Phyllis Weston’s love of showing the it, which she obviously has quite a bit of. The Santa Fe artist who relocated from Ohio in 2006 is well known for his “Buffalo Bulb” narrative series of surreal oils depicting scenes and characters from a touring wild west show. In “Tulip the Penguin Dog” Scott uses his signature vivid saturated palette to depict a terrier in a tutu dancing in a large open tulip with tulips draping the background on a curtained stage before a western landscape. To add to the excess the scene is depicted on a trompe l’oeil canvas poster on a canvas within an oversized gold frame. Scott directly references seventeenth century Dutch masters and the economic crash characterized as tulip mania in Holland during which they painted. He strives to create an overwhelming sense of decadence, and with five pieces in the front room excess certainly comes to mind. The paintings jump off the right entry wall in the small gallery, and stand out as too saturated and bright, too many, and the viewer might leave the gallery glancing over once more to wonder how they, like most of the exhibition, fit it.

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