As it celebrates its 40th anniversary, the Westport Arts Center in Connecticut invited artist Eric Aho to organize an exhibition focused on a sense of place. Aho, who lives in Vermont, decided to tighten the focus to visual ideas about a place both universal and particular – home. In HOME (through June 1) Aho has made a very personal selection of 16 artists resulting in an exhibition of unusual aesthetic insight and merit.
“The artists gathered in this exhibition,” Aho writes, “examine the world they inhabit. Their responses touch upon the personal, social, imaginative and psychological to evoke a wide range of meanings and associations derived from direct observation, childhood memories, dreams, as well as physical, conceptual and intellectual responses to inhabitable space.”
Aho began his vision of HOME by selecting works by “the three painters who are the bedrock of how I see the world” – Charles Burchfield (1893-1967), Edwin Dickinson (1891-1978), and Fairfield Porter (1907-1975). He had rather hoped to show his own work in conjunction with those of his heroes, but the curator’s role precluded self-selection. So Aho did something even more thoughtful; he constructed HOME around artists with whom he is close or has a personal interest in their work.
George Nick, one of Boston’s foremost realist painters and Aho’s mentor at Massachusetts College of Art, for instance, is represented by “Amphora Assya,” a painting of the interior of his own art-filled livingroom. Aho also invited four of his former students at the Putney School to share some of their ideas about home. Architect Devin O’Neill and landscape architects Soren and Rayna deNiord, brother and sister, contribute architectural drawings. Painter Quentin Curry shows “Outcast,” a painterly rendering of his own mobile home studio in the woods of western Pennsylvania.
The poetic quality of sensuous paint handling characterizes most of the painters Aho is drawn to, artists such as Louisa Matthiasdottir (1917-200) whose “Woman in Reykjavik” is at once wildly colorful and austere, Lois Dodd whose offhand paintings of an ice bank outside her window and a porch in Vermont typify, in Aho’s words, “the urgency she gives to the ordinary,” and Debra Bermingham whose “House of Mirth” is an eerie and ironic moonlight studio interior.
The artists whose works interests me most in HOME are two young, emerging Canadian painters whose careers Aho has been following. Kristine Moran, an Ontario native now working in New York, has a DeKooning-esque way of obscuring and conjuring imagery at one and the same time. Kim Dorland, a Toronto-based painter, mostly paints recollected scenes from his hometown of Red Deer, Alberta. He has a wonderfully strange and effective way of using paint to describe a scene and then going off on an explosive tangent of pure gesture. I’ve seen lots of painters work the ragged edge between representation and abstraction, but never in such an abrupt and wonderfully arbitrary way. As Aho writes of Dorland’s “Hillary’s House,” Dorland “conveys the violent collision of nature and culture in this marginal world of existential angst.”
Westport Arts Center has created programming around HOME that includes a writing contest, a discussion of Sandra Cisneros’s bestselling coming-of-age novel The House on Mango Street, and a May 7 gallery talk by Eric Aho. You won’t see Aho’s art in HOME, but you will see his intelligence and taste.
Westport Arts Center, 51 Riverside Ave, Westport CT, 203-222-7070