Breathe it in: Taking solace in Warm Springs Gallery’s ‘Paper Works’

“Density” by Marlene Rye is part of the “Paper Works” show on view at Warm Springs Gallery through the end of March. Photo courtesy of Warm Springs Gallery “Density” by Marlene Rye is part of the “Paper Works” show on view at Warm Springs Gallery through the end of March. Photo courtesy of Warm Springs Gallery

Mid-month is usually a pretty quiet time in a local art gallery. First Fridays crowds have long since returned home and the promise of free wine and cheese is a faint memory. But the downtown Charlottesville gallery scene isn’t dead between opening and closing receptions. Many would argue that this is the best time to enjoy an exhibit, when no one else is paying attention.

Absent the hordes, you can actually see the art on display. That’s the reason you went to the gallery in the first place, right? Well go ahead, get an eyeful. Having a gallery to yourself is an easily attainable luxury. It’s a unique privilege to have time and space to consider the way the art works together to form the exhibition experience as a whole. Most exhibits benefit from this extra reflection, but this is especially true for “Paper Works,” the current exhibition at Warm Springs Gallery.

Curated by gallery owner Barbara Buhr and her assistant, Elizabeth Flood, this exhibit brings together work by six women artists: Diane Ayott, Meredith Fife Day, Barbara Grossman, Sydney Licht, Marlene Rye and Eve Stockton. All are new to the gallery, and were hand-picked for their unique, well-matched work. Buhr considers herself an art dealer and curator, with more emphasis on the latter.

“Curating takes passion, curiosity and understanding,” she said. “Someone once told me that a good curator is like a good chef. They understand the community’s needs—and fulfill and challenge them. My goal is to make good art available to a wide audience, and to give exposure to undiscovered talent. In turn, collectors want artists who are pushing new ideas, the medium, forward.”

In curating “Paper Works” these factors were given due consideration, resulting in an exhibit that is aesthetically exciting for a casual viewer but also challenging and innovative for the avid collector. “We sought out these six artists specifically for their works on paper,” said Flood. “I found myself so drawn in by their vibrations of color, and the overall energy and movement of the work. The tension of pattern, color and shifting planes within the work really tie them together.”

Indeed, when viewing the exhibit, one immediately notices the lyrical appeal of the ordinary butting up against the magic of the mundane. Each of the artists employs techniques that play with and within the confines of reality, simultaneously representing and challenging it through the use of color, texture and subject.

For example, Stockton’s scientifically inspired woodcut prints embrace a playful approach towards biological representation. They also exemplify a variance and division within existence, using colors that suggest an augmented reality. “A close look at my imagery can reveal dichotomies such as order/chaos, microbial/monumental and familiar/otherworldly,” she said.

Day’s collage paintings also walk the line between two worlds—in this case the external experience of vision and the inner experience of memory. “Wallpapers run the aesthetic gamut—faux brick, athletic team emblems, stuffed teddy bears, you name it,” said Day. “Some, especially those based on historical designs and patterns such as calico, evoke a kind of visual poetry for me. Using these wallpapers is a nod to my inner life, and the memories through which it is filtered.”

Though all of the artists explore similar themes of tension caused by divisions within reality, their techniques are different enough that each visitor will find one artist whose work speaks to them more readily. For me, that is Marlene Rye. Her use of color in portraying seemingly traditional scenes of nature is arresting.

Rye isn’t bashful about this playfulness. “I work hard to create a visual tension,” she said. “The shapes, colors, forms and line push and pull against each other.” This tugging creates a very real sense of movement in each painting. Looking at her work, I come back time and time again to the bend of a certain sapling’s trunk in this painting, the sharp edge of a leaf in that one. Throughout, Rye uses a range of colors that is at once ethereal and yet familiar.

“I purposefully use a palette that is highly saturated so as to heighten the feeling of magic,” she said. “My colors are noticed in nature, but keyed up to be more extreme. The scale is intended to be ambiguous so as to invite the viewer to change sizes when looking at it, something I remember doing as a child when in the woods myself.”

While looking at these paintings head on, it’s easy to imagine walking through and under the graceful lines of their foliage. I get lost in childlike wonder. And it’s this immersive experience of art that only comes with the freedom to sit with an exhibit, to breathe it in, away from the distractions of a crowd.

“Paper Works” will remain on display at Warm Springs Gallery through the end of March.

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