Reviews ...

The best Arts Festival yet

... a glorious collection at Memorial Hall

by Jackie Wattenberg

Click here to see the companion article with pictures from the Melrose Arts Festival

Melrose may lack a university and theatre company, but lovers of the arts here are blessed to have our own Melrose Symphony Orchestra, our own choral society, Polymnia, and a great choir of marvelous artists. So we have frequent art shows in the elegant Beebe Estate Gallery and in our lovely library.

And last weekend [April 11-13], our 2008 Melrose Arts Festival jammed Memorial Hall with artists in all media and all styles except abstractions, with not one default.

    (Artist Penny Young, at left, describes the artistic process with Laurie Schmidt and her daughter, Anna, 9.
photo by Nicole Goodhue Boyd, staff photographer)


Usually one would have to search for originality, individual expression. But this year, as I was passing by photography — lots of it and all good — I suddenly seemed to enter the 1700s in Holland — shimmering, beautifully lighted, flawlessly formed still lifes by Susan Manning O’Briant. Every piece demanded admiration — fresh-looking watermelon, curved symmetry of onions, copper utensils glinted judiciously, asparagus and lemons striking against black background. Yes, she does portraits too and we were anxious to see them, but none in this show.

Something new, different and notable was offered this year from two of our local superb watercolorists — Tom Sutherland and Don Fox. Sutherland offered many of his deftly done, loose-toned watercolors of foreign and local scenes, several of dreamy delicacy. But he has moved now into oil portraits, lightly Impressionist and, though different from his watercolors, with his esteemed command of forms. “Lady in a Big Blue Hat” was a beauty.

Don Fox showed his richly toned, darkish watercolors of New England and foreign locales. Also a fine windy day view of the once esteemed Marshall Field’s store in Chicago where this writer once was a copywriter. One scene, he said, was not “loose enough, so I completed it with my left hand!” It did accomplish the desired gentle “looseness.” Surprising were several clearly defined, large renditions of penguins. Well, who doesn’t admire penguins?

Portraits are never easy to do well, so a stunning portrait of a young man by Matthew Bernson was a standout. Oil or acrylic, it was done with a strong sketchiness but sureness of form and bright applications of outlining color. The seated profile had a strength and conviction, a spontaneity that was dazzling. The inner arm was a bit awkward, but the originality of this young artist promises a bright future.

Another notable young man, Charles Tersolo, focuses his oils on Boston-area houses, but he swerves them into rhythmically distorted construction. All firmly controlled, imaginative, fetchingly colored and intriguing our attention. He could have been influenced by the boldly applied definitions of Van Gogh. Definitely an original to be watched for.

Eva Cincotta would appear to have grown up on a farm — her acrylics bring cows, sheep, chickens into joyful life with bright spontaneity. The chickens’ feathers are vibrant and luminous, as if we could fluff them. An original overview. Also exceptional was one small, angular, striking nude that would provoke our interest in seeing more.

Unusual watercolor prints by Christine Riccardi somehow employ gelatin that give her landscapes a loose and dreamy effect. She also showed an alluringly languorous cat.

‘Mixed media,’ watercolors and photographs

Usually I leave art of a different kind for the end of my review. But a great deal of attention is always drawn to the clever “Box Assemblages” of Clint Chadsey, a retired Melrose mailman. He uses “mixed media” of photos, newsprint and captions in his well-formed boxes for social, folk tale and political impact. Always original and clever.

Distinctive and charming with an easeful lightness were Lois Moore’s swirling tree branches of watercolor, pastel and fine lines of ink. While I passed by, she was sketching a portrait of a young boy. Oils by Judy Greulich held a nice breezy touch in depicting flowers, shady glens, nature; but she had a handsome kitchen scene as well.

Ginger Greenblatt presented interesting acrylic and watercolor work, a lovely blue winterscape, a water scene with easefully formed figures, their heads distinctively haloed in white. Rita Brace’s oils were impressive, an interesting one of two violinists at the Marshfield Fair, and a striking one of mysteriously isolated dark standing figures.

Oils of Eric Mauro have a somber, oppressive quality, which he admits to with a smile that seems cheerful enough. His scenes are well-structured, assured, but even a painting of children bathing in Hammond Pond is dreary, which is his footprint. Only his painting of his young daughter is cheery as well as well done. Well, chacun à son goût; or, each to his or her own taste. As with Matt Martelli, whose perfectly plotted oils are exclusively in black and white, strongly defined cityscapes and a large rippling water scene — they could be ready for black and white newsprint. One exception — a grapefruit, lusciously yellow and juicy, proved he can provide color if he chooses.

Always intriguing and a bit perplexing as to their identity are the photos of cloth in intricate and gorgeous forms by Wilda Gerideau Squires. They appear to be painted abstractions but are results of clever and original, even digitally enhanced, photographic techniques.

Watercolor city scenes of Jeanette Corbett were skillfully done; a grey cityscape with blurred area held a distinctive romantic mood. Debra Corbett showed her always well-crafted, structurally sure city scenes, honoring Melrose architecture. But a subtle landscape, richly rust-toned, was a highlight that may promise more.

Ellen Rolli’s brilliantly slashed shoes were the closest to today’s art scene clamor for distortion, found objects, lack of respect for form or tradition. Gone are her old representations of Melrose houses enhanced by an individual overview; gone are the lipsticks and small cubicles. Here now—oversized shoes smeared in shockingly brilliant colors. Yes, smears — but smears of defiance, daring, independence, freedom! Hers is a curious eye, adventuresome, courageous — what will next year bring — or summer?

Realism unchallenged is the mark of Dorren Wetzel. He delights in patterns of nature — farm fields and forests of green with every leaf, every glass blade, every kernel of corn dignified with a complete form, in spring greens and yellows. Rod Peterson’s watercolors look more lyrically to nature, with an eye to perspective, a little red house nestled in a valley.

Photography is a quick draw, but invited creativity in subject matter and treatment. Ken Kellar’s works often have a tenuous simplicity and charm; city streets or the lovely view of Manchester-by-the-Sea. Tom Savage looks for odd and shadowed views of famed structures like Old South Church. But most wining was a misty grey view of Spot Pond pinpointed with a distant row of ducks.

Stephen McAteer captures the moods of nature in striking contrasts … inflamed river is striking against shadowed darks; sweeps of sand and umber stretches endow his work with a distinctive moodiness. Ken Buck searches for something unusual — he found this in what looks like a delicate watercolor in a fish market: a cluster of delicate, pinkish tilapia fish. He also likes to catch architecture in striking shadows. Richard Cohane showed the only baby I can recall — caught coyly ducking with a cunning smile.

Not a negative work in this whole huge exhibit, but space demands a limit on inclusions.

Jackie Wattenberg is a Melrose resident and is the arts correspondent for the Free Press.

Reprinted with permission from the Melrose Free Press of April 24, 2008.



May 2, 2008


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