For its second Spotlight New England exhibition focused on contemporary artists working in the region, the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, is featuring sculpture, paintings, and drawings by Gary Haven Smith of Northwood, New Hampshire, and Gerald Auten of Norwich, Vermont and the Dartmouth College faculty. The exhibition (through September 13) pairs two artists who share an austere New England formalism, an aesthetic of the elemental and the essential.
Gary Haven Smith, a 1973 University of New Hampshire grad, has been a fixture on the regional art scene for decades, his stone sculpture and garden benches conjuring ancient civilizations and the geological past while remaining resolutely modern. The Currier show includes several of the abstract glacial granite sculptures for which he is best known, such as Coming Around, a 2008 twist of polished stone atop a rough column, and Lunar Marker, a 2000 work in which Smith has carved a square hole through the middle of a boulder balanced atop another. The artist uses computer-generated designs to mark the surfaces of his work, adding texture to form.
The Currier show also features a selection of Gary Haven Smith’s “paintings,” two dimensional wall pieces that are as about as sculptural as paintings get. Summer Tale, for instance, is a light and lyrical painted frieze of lead, slate and oil on plywood, while Quercus is 2007 triptych with a bark-like surface made of slate, white gold leaf, and oil on plywood.
“What is important for me in a painting is a relationship between the paint and the different materials such as lead, wood, and slate,” writes Smith. “My interest is to create a tactile surface that interrelates with these unexpected materials in a balanced way.”
Gerald Auten, a senior lecturer in Dartmouth’s studio art department, is represented by 11 graphite drawings created between 1999 and 2004. There is a material correspondence between Auten’s drawings and Smith’s sculptures and paintings in that Auten builds up graphite on paper by rubbing it into the surface and erasing it, creating a glowing, polished look.
Auten earned a BFA at the University of Iowa, an MFA at Washington University in St. Louis, and a masters degree in architecture from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, so perhaps I am reading too much brooding New Englander into his Midwestern reserve. Drawings with titles such as Next New Thing, Jeepster, and Two-Line Frame have abstract geometric forms looming up out of and sinking into luminous clouds of graphite.
Taken together these two Granite State artists provide a visual experience at once cerebral and sensuous, reflective of the material world yet resonant with the world of pure forms.
[Currier Museum of Art, 150 Ash St., Manchester, NH, 603-669-6144, x108.]