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CATAMOUNT ART CENTER | 115 Eastern Ave. | St. Johnsbury, VT | Through April 2009

TAGGED Review by Janet Van Fleet +++ Review by Marc Awodey

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Review by Janet Van Fleet

Published in: Vermont Art Zine | April 12, 2009


Harriet Wood: Alex wants to Dance, 2009
Harriet Wood: Alex wants to Dance, 2009

Harriet Wood is a painter whose canvases sing and dance. (The triptych above is even called Alex Wants To Dance I, II, and III.) Her colors are vivid and her painting is vigorous and full of a manic but elegant energy. With the exception of a few portrait heads and swampy landscapes, all the work in the show is exuberantly non-figurative and decidedly a cohesive body of work.

Harriet Wood: Karuna, 2009
Harriet Wood: Karuna, 2009

Patches of scrubbed, saturated color are highlighted by strong lines that sometimes appear to have been applied directly from the tube, enhancing the energy and drive of the work. In some of the newer pieces from 2009, such as Karuna (above, a diptych 45 x 76"), she adds repeated elements, such as the white ear-like curves in the lower left, and wavy lines spooning in the lower right. Homage to Klimt has a patch of staccato dots.

Harriet Wood: The Last of Just, 2009
Harriet Wood: The Last of Just, 2009

The piece getting the most comment at the crowded opening reception on Friday evening (April 10) was The Last of Just (above, 22.5 x 22.5"), from 2006, with dark black, olive, and muted reds overlaid by scarlet linear elements that suggested calligraphy or Chinese characters. The work in this exhibit is lush and intense.

Harriet Wood: Opening, 2009
It’s at the Catamount Arts gallery in St. Johnsbury through April 30

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Review by Marc Awodey

Published in: Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice | April 22, 2009


“Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite,” wrote first-generation Abstract Expressionist  Arshile Gorky(1904-1948). “It is the emancipation of the mind … an explosion into unknown areas.” Such exuberance surfaces in the work of Harriet Wood, a Vermonter with deep art-world roots. Her 10-year retrospective of work, entitled “In the Moment: Now and Then,” at St. Johnsbury’s Catamount Arts Center reflects her awareness of, and brief participation in, the New York art scene of the mid-20th century. That lively context influenced her flawless color harmonies and sturdy, nonobjective compositions.

One of the sturdiest appears in “Violet Hour.” The 30-by-40-inch acrylic on canvas is weighted like a teeter-totter, with masses to left and right facing off at two ends of a slight incline. Their fulcrum is a relatively airy space at the center of the composition, defined by a few tilted verticals. Cadmium-red accents appear brighter beside Wood’s violets and purples.

Movement is everywhere in her paintings. Four patches of blue-green roll around the center of “Woodbury Winter #5.” The 49-by-49.5-inch oil is dominated by warm yellows and reds, while the cooler hues floating at the tips of an implied cruciform shape subtly spin the composition counterclockwise. The hub is a soft-edged red square with thin lines ambling over it.

The three 34-inch-square canvasses of “Alex Wants to Dance I, II, III” are hung tightly together, suggesting a triptych. The dominant forms are cast in pale orange, salmon and pinks modulating into purples. They are organic shapes that proceed across the three canvasses from left to right, weaving in and out of clouds of green and blue. No doubt well schooled in the theories of Hans Hofmann, Wood pushes and pulls movement and space in her pieces by virtue of colors layered at different depths of the picture plane. She also varies the intensity of her paint, giving the eye many textures on which to rest.

Around 1959, Wood became involved with the NO!art group while studying at the  Pratt Institute and the  Art Students’ League. In a 1995 essay about the  NO!art movement that she wrote for the catalogue of an exhibition at Berlin’s  Neuen Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Wood says, “Our art was hot and in the true spirit of rebellion, visceral, immediate to the feelings that generated it, and meant to shock the public out of its ennui and denial.” One of the group’s most prominent shows presented  “Shit Sculptures” at the  Gertrude Stein Gallery. Wood’s work still packs a visceral punch, but now she applies her passion to creating beauty rather than shocking the public.

The 45-by-76-inch diptych “Karuna,” painted this year, seems to allude to a peaceful landscape. A wavy blue horizontal axis delineating the lower third of the canvasses ties the two panels together while appearing to move like a mountain stream. Verdant greens and vertically oriented, treelike brown forms reside near the upper right and left corners of the diptych. White brush strokes separate hues in several places, especially in the upper areas of the painting, offering the viewer breathing space in the lush tapestry of color. The title “Karuna” is a Yogic term for compassion and empathy — a far cry from the anger of NO!art, which was in part a response to the Holocaust and the inhumanity of modern society.

Wood’s current exhibit is more about now than about the “then” of 50 years ago. And that’s as it should be, because, as she points out with the title of her 1995 essay, “the beat goes on.” Wood paints in, and for, the 21st century.

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Catamount Arts was founded in 1975 with a mission of enhancing the cultural climate of northern Vermont and New Hampshire. Integration of the arts into community life has been our guiding principle and we attempt to cultivate awareness and appreciation of the arts through a diversified schedule of film, music, theater, dance, and the visual arts.

For 20 years, Catamount Arts was located literally next door to one of the most beautiful and historically important buildings in the Northeast Kingdom.  When it was opened in 1912, the Masonic Temple of St. Johnsbury was the largest and grandest Masonic building in the state with more than 700 members.  In a generous gesture intended to benefit the entire community, the Masonic Lodge gave this showplace building to Catamount in 2005, in return for a no-cost lease in perpetuity of the top floor, which continues to be used as the Lodge meeting place. 

Catamount Arts then embarked on a major construction project to transform the lower two floors into a Community Arts Center.  The rehabilitation was designed with the help and encouragement of the local community.  Not only were the actual plans developed after a series of public creative forums, but much of the rehabilitation work was done by the St. Johnsbury Academy Building Trades and Electricity Programs and the St. Johnsbury Work Camp participants.  read more